Fletcher to Wait Weeks to Resign From Board of Supes in Wake of Sex-Assault Allegation By Ex-MTS Employee

County Supervisor Fletcher, who was also the MTS chair, as well as the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System itself, are named in a suit filed earlier this week by a former MTS employee

Nathan Fletcher

Nathan Fletcher announced Wednesday night that he would resign from his seat as District 4 County Supervisor as he faces a lawsuit from a former Metropolitan Transit System employee accusing him of sexual assault and harassment.

Fletcher announced his resignation in a news release, citing "immense and unbearable strain" on his wife and family over the last week. He resigned as MTS chair Tuesday night, the same day the lawsuit was filed in San Diego Superior Court.

Accusation by former intern, denied by Fletcher, comes in wake of lawsuit filed by former MTS employee, reports NBC 7's Priya Sridhar.

On Thursday morning, though, Fletcher's director of communications, James Canning, sent a follow-up email to NBC 7, clarifying that the supervisor would not leave office until May 15, 2023, at 5 p.m., more than six weeks after he announced his departure via Twitter late on Wednesday. In a tweet, Fletcher stated that he was delaying his departure through the "end of his medical leave."

Wednesday night's tweets were Fletcher's first since the suit was filed:

The strain on my wife and family over this past week has been immense and unbearable. A combination of my personal mistakes plus false accusations has created a burden that my family shouldn’t have to bear. I will be resigning from the board of supervisors, effective at the end of my medical leave. I will focus solely on getting healthy and being a good husband, father and friend. I am grateful to my constituents for the honor of serving you, my incredible team who worked tirelessly to make a real difference, and our county workers who put it all on the line for those most in need everyday. I am proud of what we accomplished together. My decision today is solely based on what is best for my family.

NBC 7 reached out to UC San Diego early on Thursday regarding Fletcher’s employment status at the university, where he is listed as a professor of practice in political science at UC San Diego. Later in the day, NBC 7 was sent the following statement: "Nathan Fletcher is not currently teaching at UC San Diego," adding that "The health, well-being and safety of our campus community members is our top priority. All allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence are taken very seriously."

A Roller-Coaster Week

Fletcher started the week by announcing he was terminating his campaign for State Senate so he could seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse.

A stunning fall from grace for County Supervisor Fletcher, who, until Tuesday, was on the MTS board, reports NBC 7's Priya Sridhar

“The strain on my wife and family over this past week has been immense and unbearable," Fletcher's statement reads, in part. "A combination of my personal mistakes plus false accusations has created a burden that my family shouldn’t have to bear. I will be resigning from the Board of Supervisors, effective at the end of my medical leave. I will focus solely on getting healthy and being a good husband, father and friend."

According to the suit, Grecia Figueroa, who worked for the MTS until February of this year, alleges Fletcher groped her on two occasions and pursued a sexual relationship with her for months, leading to her abrupt firing on Feb. 6, the day Fletcher announced his state Senate candidacy.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Fletcher alleges that he had "consensual interactions" with Figueroa but denied the allegations of assault and harassment. In the statement — which came three days after announcing he would be checking into a treatment center — Fletcher said he "made a terrible mistake engaging in consensual interactions with someone outside my marriage" who, along with her attorney, is seeking "millions of dollars from me and my family with the threat of not only embarrassment but a willingness to lie about the circumstances and nature of the interactions."

"I have not done the things they are alleging, but I did violate the basic trust and loyalty of my marriage and set a terrible example for our children," Fletcher said.

What the Ex-MTS Employee Alleges in the Suit

In the suit, Figueroa alleges that beginning in 2021, Fletcher began "stalking" a social media account of hers, then sought to meet with her privately on several occasions. On two of those occasions, she claims, he assaulted her.

The complaint alleges Figueroa "was intimidated by the dynamic Fletcher had created" and says she "felt pressured to reciprocate Fletcher's advances because she knew he had authority, as both a career politician and as chair of the MTS Board, to destroy her career at MTS and to potentially humiliate her publicly if she made him angry."

Figueroa also alleges in the suit that on Feb. 6, she was fired during a closed-door meeting with MTS chief human resources officer Jeff Stumbo.

"She received no warning, no opportunity to speak with her supervisor or anyone else at MTS and she was required to leave immediately without gathering any of her personal belongings," the suit alleges, adding that Figueroa believes "that MTS terminated her employment because she was sexually harassed by Defendant Fletcher."

On Thursday afternoon, the MTS released a statement to NBC 7 that said Figueroa's termination was related to ongoing performance concerns and that no MTS board member, including Fletcher, was involved in the decision to fire her:

The termination of Grecia Figueroa was solely related to ongoing performance concerns and followed MTS’s normal practice of documenting such concerns and attempting to work with the employee toward improvement over a reasonable period of time. None of the decision-makers involved in this personnel decision were aware of the allegations about Nathan Fletcher until after the decision to terminate Ms. Figueroa’s employment was communicated to her. Neither Mr. Fletcher nor any other MTS board member was aware of or involved in the decision to terminate Ms. Figueroa. The filing of Ms. Figueroa’s lawsuit on March 28, 2023, was the first time that MTS executive management was provided with the specific details of Ms. Figueroa’s allegations.

The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday at 5:41 p.m. in San Diego Superior Court alleges sexual assault and battery and sexual harassment by Fletcher. It also names the MTS as a defendant and alleges sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment and retaliation, and whistleblower retaliation.

MTS General Counsel Karen Landers said in a statement sent to NBC 7 that "MTS just became aware of the lawsuit and is looking into it. MTS does not comment on matters that are pending litigation." Later in the day, an MTS representative told NBC 7 that, "Last night, Nathan Fletcher resigned from his position as board chair. Stephen Whitburn will act as chair pending board action.”

Fletcher's attorney, Danielle Hultenius Moore, said in the statement sent out on Wednesday that the woman's allegations "are false and are designed to drive headlines and not tell the truth."

The attorney said that Figueroa "pursued" Fletcher, who "does not and never had authority over her employment," adding that "We will aggressively fight this issue in court and the full record will show the truth."

On Sunday, Fletcher announced he would forgo his state Senate run to deal with post-traumatic stress he attributed to his time in combat with the Marine Corps. He also said he was suffering from childhood trauma, which had been exacerbated by issues with alcohol. Wednesday's news release also stated that Fletcher was being treated for those issues outside the state of California.

Fletcher said he was seeking treatment at the recommendation of his therapist and the insistence of his wife, former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

The Fallout

In his response to the lawsuit's allegations, Fletcher said in the statement issued Wednesday morning that "Lorena and I have already started to work through this, and that work must continue after I complete treatment for trauma and alcohol abuse. My wife has done nothing but love me completely and without reservation, and the blame for allowing myself to be in this situation rests entirely on my shoulders. I will spend my life working to repair the damage done to my family."

Wednesday night, Gonzalez tweeted her support for her husband.

"I love my husband. He has acknowledged his mistakes & I believe his name will be cleared of false accusations. Still, I asked him to resign to lessen the strain on our family. I’m relieved he is finally getting treatment he needs. Thank you to everyone who has reached out today."

A spokesperson for Fletcher's office confirmed Fletcher's director of policy, Emily Wier, and policy advisor, Eric Rafla-Yuan, resigned from their roles Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the San Diego Police Department said it was not investigating Figueroa's allegations of sexual assault.

Reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon, Fletcher's colleague Nora Vargas, who sits on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, released the following statement: "As chairwoman of the board, I am committed to ensuring the everyday work of the people of San Diego County moves forward. I will follow the facts of the legal process as it unfolds."

Late on Wednesday night after Fletcher's resignation, Vargas tweeted the following: "As Chairwoman of the S.D County Board of Supervisors, I’m deeply disturbed by the allegations against Sup. Fletcher and support his resignation. We must work to create a safe environment for all the dedicated people who work in San Diego County, and I won’t accept anything less."

NBC 7 reached out to Board of Supervisors vice-chair Terra Lawson-Remer — like Vargas and Fletcher, a Democrat — for a statement on Wednesday afternoon and received the following, which did not directly address the situation regarding fellow board member Fletcher: "Our board and our leadership team at the county are strong and resilient. We have made great progress over the last several years, and we will continue to move forward our transformative vision for a county that works for everyone. I have every confidence in our chairwoman and look forward to working with my colleagues to keep delivering for our region.”

Jim Desmond, one of two Republicans currently holding a seat on the five-person San Diego County Board of Supervisors, sent out the following statement early on Thursday morning:

I am concerned and disappointed by the disturbing allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Fletcher. It takes immense courage for individuals to come forward with such allegations, and we must create a safe and supportive environment for victims to share their stories.

While it is crucial to allow the legal process to take its course, and for all parties to be heard, Mr. Fletcher's decision to resign from the board of supervisors was the right one. As elected officials, we hold a position of great responsibility and trust and must be held to a higher standard of conduct.

The resignation of Mr. Fletcher is a necessary step for the future of San Diego County. The focus should be on the people we serve in this region and abuses of power cannot be tolerated. As elected officials, we must remain vigilant in our commitment to serving the public good and always act with integrity and honor.

On Thursday, Becca Taylor, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, sent NBC 7 the following statement:

The San Diego County Democratic Party stands on the principles that we protect our entire community, advance causes of justice and hold ourselves accountable to a governing standard that inspires confidence in the public that when we lead, we deliver on promises to solve the challenges before us.

In light of these troubling charges of sexual assault and harassment, Supervisor Fletcher’s decision to resign from the board of supervisors is appropriate. We must hold our leaders to a high standard of personal conduct, whether engaging government staff or the public at large.

Anyone who has experienced the behavior alleged deserves accountability and healing. Now that Nathan has stepped down and entered treatment, I hope his family will have the time and space to begin to heal as well.

Now our attention must return to effective governance. We have the greatest confidence in the leadership of Board of Supervisors Chair Vargas and Vice Chair Lawson-Remer as they continue their significant work for our county. From housing and homelessness to public safety and climate change, our challenges demand a united front that fosters confidence in our elected officials.

Our majority on the board represents the first time in far too long the county governance has been focused on representing and lifting up all the people in our community. It’s too soon to know how the political questions that have been raised will be resolved. The San Diego Democrats will prioritize the same level of full representation.

Also on Wednesday, Figueroa's attorney, Zach Schumacher, sent NBC 7 the following:

First and foremost, we ask that everyone please respect Ms. Figueroa's privacy.  This has been an incredibly shocking and emotional series of events, particularly as Nathan Fletcher and Lorena Gonzalez attempted to publicly defame my client (and me) prior to the release of our civil complaint. While we are very grateful for all the support we have received from the community, we do not intend to engage in any interviews or press conferences at this time. Ms. Figueroa needs space to process and to heal from this week's events, and thus, we request that all future inquiries be directed to my office only. 

Regarding a statement of our position, the allegations in our civil complaint speak for themselves — as do Nathan Fletcher's actions over the past several days. Our complaint noted (at Paragraphs 56-61) that Nathan Fletcher, Lorena Gonzalez and their attorney, Danielle Moore, threatened to publicly humiliate, defame and (falsely) accuse my client of "extortion" if we brought our story to light. And in the hours between the time we filed our complaint and the time it was published by the court, Nathan Fletcher, Lorena Gonzalez and Danielle Moore did just that.  Their actions were truly shameless and despicable, and they will be addressed appropriately as we litigate our case in civil court.

With Fletcher on a medical leave of absence, the board of supervisors is now left with two Republican supervisors, Joel Anderson and Desmond, and two Democrats, Lawson-Remer and Nora Vargas. The remaining board members will have to decide if it would like to appoint a supervisor to complete the rest of Fletcher's term, which was set to end in 2027, or if a special election should be called. Many political analysts are now also wondering how the 50/50 party split on the board will impact the passing policy until the fifth seat is filled.

Vargas's office told NBC 7 late on Thursday afternoon that the board of supervisors would take up the issue of replacing Fletcher during its normally scheduled meeting on May 2.

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