Judge: Sexual harassment lawsuit against California treasurer by employee she fired can go to trial

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A civil lawsuit brought against California Treasurer Fiona Ma by a high-ranking former employee who alleges Ma made sexual advances toward her before firing her can go to trial, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judith Blackwell, the former head of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, alleged sexual harassment, racial discrimination and wrongful termination in the lawsuit, which was filed in July 2021, six months after she was fired. Ma has said the allegations are without merit and filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit alleged that Ma often rented hotel rooms and a home in Sacramento for staff to stay in after working late. Blackwell said that while sharing rooms, Ma called her into her bedroom several times, exposed her nude backside and climbed into Blackwell's bed with her at least once.

Ma's motion for dismissal said the incidents were not sexual in nature and instead typical of what happens when people share a living space.

In his ruling, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger dismissed Blackwell’s allegations of racial discrimination and wrongful termination. Krueger said the state treasurer’s office presented evidence that Blackwell, who is African American, was fired based on job performance.

But the judge said that Blackwell's allegations, if believed by a jury, could establish that Ma sexually harassed her.

Ma spokesman Steve Maviglio said Friday that her office is “pleased that a number of the allegations were thrown out and that the treasurer can have her day in court.”

“The allegations are meritless by a disgruntled employee, and we look forward to having them proven false,” he added.

Blackwell suffered a stroke in September 2020 that put her out of work for two months. When she returned, she was given extra tasks that often kept her at work late, Blackwell’s lawsuit said.

Ma, a Democrat, served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and was elected state treasurer in 2018. The treasurer manages state investments, serves on the board of its pension funds and oversees programs that provide tax credits for affordable housing and financing for public works projects.

Ma was also previously elected to the Board of Equalization and the state Assembly. She has said she plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2026.