The City of Hollister plans to fight a lawsuit it claims is
filed Monday by six women claiming sexual harassment.
Robert Ornelas, Recreation Services manager at the Hollister
Recreation Division, is accused of sexual harassment and violating
employees’ civil rights. The city is named in the suit because it
claims administrators knew about the harassment and did nothing to
The City of Hollister plans to fight a lawsuit it claims is “without merit” filed Monday by six women claiming sexual harassment.
Robert Ornelas, Recreation Services manager at the Hollister Recreation Division, is accused of sexual harassment and violating employees’ civil rights. The city is named in the suit because it claims administrators knew about the harassment and did nothing to combat it.
City attorney Elaine Cass said the suit is one-sided and lacks merit.
“Unfortunately, the picture painted in the complaint is not the full picture,” she said. “Under the circumstances, the city is prepared to defend this lawsuit, which we believe is without merit.”
When asked for a response about the lawsuit, Ornelas said he’s only heard “tidbits here and there” about the suit and its accusations.
“Obviously, at this point, I cannot comment since I don’t know the extent of the accusations,” he said.
The women named in the suit work or have worked within the Hollister Recreation Division: Stephanie Beltran, office assistant, Lisa Borges, senior support services assistant, Christina Castillo, a youth program coordinator at one time, Jerrisue Wasson, the Veterans Building facilitator at one time, Jeannette Miller, an independent contractor, and a 17-year-old independent contractor whose name is being withheld because of her age.
The allegations vary from groping, leering, kissing, touching body parts, sexually suggestive language, preferential treatment and threats toward job security, according to the lawsuit.
Cass was served with the complaint Wednesday. She reviewed the pleadings and said parts of the story have been omitted.
Although the lawsuit indicates Borges filed a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), it omits that the DFEH investigated and closed the case based on a determination that there was no violation of laws according to Borges’ claims, Cass said.
In this case, as in most cases the DFEH reviews, the organization’s one-year limit ran out this November, said local attorney William Marder, who is filed the lawsuit on behalf of the six women. After the one year is up, the DFEH must close the case or take action, he said.
However, “Two of the plaintiffs have never complained to the city or to any other authorities,” Cass said.
“I find this lawsuit very troublesome because of the history,” she said. “The DFEH investigated at the request of Ms. Borges and determined that there was no probable cause to proceed, and that no laws had been violated by the city or Mr. Ornelas. The city also investigated and took appropriate corrective action.”
Ornelas began working for the city in January 1984, according to the city’s human resources department. He became manager of Recreation Services in January 1986. From 1984 to 1986, Ornelas served as acting sports supervisor, program manager for sports, community center attendee and playground supervisor, according to human resources.
Although some of the information contained in the lawsuit is limited to 2003, complaints of sexual harassment have been filed before then and some of the women contend the behavior has been ongoing.
During the past couple of years, the city and the DFEH completed separate investigations into complaints.
The city’s 2002 sexual harassment investigation found that Ornelas’ “conduct was inappropriate and unprofessional and in violation of city policy.” The city said action was taken against Ornelas, but wouldn’t elaborate.
The DFEH inquiry ended this November with the issuance to plaintiffs notices of right to bring a civil action based on the charges filed.
The city has 30 days to respond in writing to the suit. Within a year after that, the jury trial will begin, Marder said. The suit is seeking monetary damages.