Jury: City Director Forced Religious Views on Employees, Taxpayers Stuck With $300K Verdict - NBC 7 San Diego
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Jury: City Director Forced Religious Views on Employees, Taxpayers Stuck With $300K Verdict

Current Deputy Director of San Diego City Archives called coworker “non-believer” and told him he was not a “child of God.”

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    NEWSLETTERS

    300-Thousand-Dollar Religious Discrimination Verdict Against the City of San Diego

    A San Diego County jury found a city employee went too far in pushing her religious beliefs on other employees. A worker who said that he was demoted because of different beliefs sued the city, which awarded him 300,000-dollars that will be paid with tax-payer money. The NBC 7 Investigates reporter Mari Payton has the details. (Published Monday, July 8, 2019)

    The City of San Diego will pay an employee $300,000 for religious discrimination he faced from a deputy director of the City’s Archives and Records Management Department. 

    A federal jury reached its verdict in favor of Rasean Johnson on May 24th of this year. 

    Johnson, according to court documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates, started working for the City as a Records Stock Clerk in 2004. For a number of years, Johnson worked alongside then-records analyst, and current Deputy Director, Sheila Beale.  

    In the following years, Johnson says Beale began to “inject” her religious beliefs on him and others in the office. The first incident, according to the lawsuit, occurred in 2008 as voters were asked to vote on Proposition 8, a ballot initiative which would have prevented same-sex marriage in California. 

    Deputy Director Sheila Beale poses in a 2017 photo, taken by San Diego Downtown News / Sande Lollis.
    Photo credit: SD Downtown News
     

    “Beale asked Johnson if he thought it was ‘okay if gays marry,’” reads Johnson’s federal complaint. “When Johnson replied that he had no problem with people marrying whomever they want, Beale told him he was ‘not a child of God.’” 

    Another worker overheard the conversation, according to the lawsuit, and reported it to then-Deputy Director Katherine Joy. 

    In 2011, Beale was promoted to Deputy Director of Archives and Records Management. 

    In his complaint, Johnson alleged Beale began leading “prayer sessions” in her new role as Deputy Director and urged her employees to attend church. 

    During a subsequent performance review, Beale allegedly cautioned Johnson that he should start reading his bible, adding, “even good people go to hell if they don’t give their life to the work of God.” 

    Beale, allegedly, went so far as to instruct other employees not to follow Johnson’s orders “because he was a non-believer.” 

    Johnson was later demoted from his supervisor position. 

    Johnson filed a formal complaint to the city in October 2015. The city found enough evidence to verify Johnson’s complaint, however, opted to transfer Johnson and leave Beale as Deputy Director. 

    “Johnson used to look at the City's official seal as a source of pride and inspiration but now its maxim, Semper Vigilans (‘ever vigilant’), seems ironic and hypocritical. Johnson had done everything in his power to stem Beale's inappropriate conduct: participating in mediation, ignoring her derogatory comments, and avoiding unnecessary interactions. But Beale persisted. Even after the City's investigation confirmed Beale had engaged in unlawful conduct, it took no action against her and, instead, stripped Johnson of his Supervisor job title and transferred him to a remote job site,” according to Johnson’s 2017 civil complaint. 

    On May 24, a federal jury found the city placed Johnson in an “adverse employment action.” The jury initially awarded Johnson $350,000 but that amount was later reduced to $300,000, due to federal guidelines, according to court filings. 

    The members of the jury also found the city removed Johnson from his position for reporting on Beale as well as suffered emotionally from Beale’s treatment. 

    Attorney Dan Eaton specializes in employment law and is not connected with this case. Eaton says employers are required to protect all employees regardless of religious affiliation, or lack of. 

    “A lot of people think there’s only workplace sex harassment but hostile work environment can include harassment based on race, religion, and gender,” says Eaton. “You have to be careful, because to the extent that it affects the environment of those who don’t share the employee’s religious beliefs, that’s where you run into conflict.” 

    Johnson’s attorney declined to comment for the story. 

    A city spokesperson confirmed that Beale is still employed as a Deputy Director. According to a compensation report obtained by NBC 7, Beale made $121,679 in 2018. 

    Rasean Johnson now works as an administrative aide. 

    On July 6, NBC 7 Investigates contacted the city for a comment on the jury’s verdict but the city has not responded.