Employees of San Bernardino County Public Defender’s Office file sexual misconduct lawsuit

Four long-time employees of the San Bernadino Public Defender’s Office in California have filed a lawsuit that alleges gross sexual misconduct and “an ‘Animal House’ frat party sex atmosphere that is important for the public to be aware of.” 

The lawsuit, filed on November 5th, details shocking allegations of a long-standing culture of sexual harassment by top officials at the office. The county of San Bernardino and former Public Defender Gregory Christopher “Chris” Gardner are listed as defendants in the suit.

The suit specifically names, but does not list as defendants, Chief Deputy Public Defenders Jennie Cannady and Geoffrey Canty and Supervising Deputy Public Defenders Mark Shoup and Richard LaFianza.

The details of the lawsuit paint a picture of an ongoing culture of sexual misconduct and accuse Gardner, specifically, of using his position of power to coerce women into giving him sexual favors by purposely giving them work assignments that would put them in situations where they would be alone with him.

It also alleges Gardner conducted an extramarital affair with an employee, Stacy Thacker, and when she refused his sexual advances he “got violent” and at one point ran her off the road as she attempted to drive to his home and tell his wife about their affair. Thacker says she filed a police report against Gardner once, and made several attempts to end the relationship, but Thacker believes Gardner used his powerful position to cover up her accusations.

Another employee, Michelle Vanderlinden, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, claims Gardner also coerced her into a sexual relationship, and when she refused he physically forced her to touch his genitals. Gardner abruptly resigned in December of 2020 after fifteen years with the San Bernardino Public Defender’s Office, citing personal reasons.

Laura Alvarez and office assistant Gricelda Arciniega, the other two plaintiffs in the lawsuit, allege they were retaliated against professionally when they attempted to report sexual misconduct to their supervisors or refuse to perform sexual acts for their bosses.

Other allegations include high level officials watching pornographic videos at work, receiving oral sex from female employees in the office, receiving packages to the office containing used women’s underwear, and more. All four plaintiffs are still employed at the office.

San Bernardino County issued an official statement in response to the lawsuit: “San Bernardino County has no higher priority than providing a safe, equitable and harassment-free working environment for all of our employees. The County takes allegations of harassment, sexual misconduct, and retaliation very seriously and immediately conducts full investigations into any and all reports of misconduct. The County has a strong zero-tolerance policy against workplace misconduct and retaliation and requires employees to read and sign the policy upon hiring and as part of all regular employment evaluations.”

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