LOS ANGELES – A former employee of Los Angeles-based Zocalo Public Square who sued the cultural and nonprofit organization, alleging she was forced to resign in 2019 because the founder and former publisher harassed and discriminated against her, has reached a settlement in her case.
Plaintiff Claire Krelitz’s allegations included wrongful termination, harassment, discrimination and various state Labor Code violations. She sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in the suit filed in December 2020 in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Lawyers for the parties told Judge Bruce G. Iwasaki during a July 14 status conference that a resolution of Krelitz’s case was reached, but no terms were divulged. Defense attorneys denied any wrongdoing on the part of their clients and maintained that Krelitz was not entitled to any damages.
Arizona State University was also originally sued by Krelitz, but was dismissed as a defendant in August 2021 by Judge John P. Doyle, who previously oversaw the case. ASU began funding Zocalo Public Square in 2010 and began overseeing it in 2017.
After an ASU investigation into complaints against Zocalo Public Square founder and former publisher Gregory Rodriguez of mistreatment by employees that were found credible, he stepped down in December 2019.
According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez pledged when he created Zocalo that he was going to foster and host “an intellectual space where no one would be singled out derisively and everyone would be welcome.”
Zocalo grew into a well-regarded civic organization that has partnered with UCLA, the Getty, the Smithsonian and other prominent institutions, according to the suit.
“Unfortunately, Rodriguez flouted the principles on which Zocalo was founded,” the suit alleged. “Rodriguez used Zocalo to recruit young women he could he harass and prey upon, including (Krelitz).”
Krelitz had both unpaid and paid internships with Zocalo beginning in May 2018, and in May 2019 she was hired to work as a management coordinator at a salary at least 12.5% less than male employees, the suit alleged. She also was not paid overtime or provided uninterrupted meal and rest periods, according to her complaint.
Throughout her 13 months of employment, Krelitz, who is gay, alleges she was subjected to frequent harassment based on her gender and sexual orientation by Rodriguez, who often made unwelcome and hostile sexist and homophobic remarks. He told her men like big breasts “because they have a maternal complex” and mockingly referred to Krelitz as a “boy” because of how she dressed, according to her court papers.
Rodriguez told Krelitz she “looked prettier when she dressed more femininely” and that her girlfriend could hurt her more than men, the suit alleged. She further alleged he asked her to use her sexuality or her sex appeal to get venues to host Zocalo events for free.
Rodriguez referred to women by the terms “bi***” and “broad” and commented on the attractiveness of potential female speakers, moderators and job candidates by requesting that “hot women” be recruited, the suit alleged.
Rodriguez also touched the plaintiff inappropriately by putting his hands on her shoulders while facing her, according to her suit, which alleged his conduct caused Krelitz “significant distress and physical symptoms, including migraine headaches and nausea.”
Rodriguez once screamed at Krelitz, lunged at her and put his face near hers, according to the suit, which alleged that another time he lunged across a table and slammed her laptop in a fit of rage.
Rodriguez did not treat male employees unfairly and “made clear to (Krelitz) that he looked down upon female employees,” the suit stated.
Krelitz suffered “significant distress and physical symptoms” and was forced to resign in June 2019 because of her hostile work environment, the suit alleged.
Rodriguez’s resignation occurred only because of negative publicity in the media and not due to any corrective action taken by the defendants, Krelitz alleged.