County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher resigned as board chair of the Metropolitan Transit System Tuesday, the same day a former MTS employee filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Fletcher announced Sunday night that he was abandoning his campaign for state Senate and checking into a treatment program for trauma and alcohol abuse, but did not resign his seat on the County’s Board of Supervisors and did not announce that he had resigned from MTS. Voice of San Diego confirmed Wednesday he had stepped down from that role and that San Diego City Councilman Stephen Whitburn would take that job temporarily.
The lawsuit was filed late Tuesday in Superior Court by Grecia Figueroa, a former MTS employee and television reporter. She accused Fletcher and MTS of sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment and retaliation, sexual assault and whistleblower retaliation.
Figueroa alleged that the situation escalated from flirtatious Instagram messages to a visit to Fletcher’s hotel for a 10 p.m. drink while his wife Lorena Gonzalez was out of town. She claimed Fletcher kissed her in a hotel stairwell after she previously rejected his advances.
Later, during a June 2022 MTS Executive Committee meeting, Figueroa said Fletcher asked her to meet for five minutes in an adjacent conference room and then “put his mouth against hers and began to grab her breasts through her clothes.” Figueroa said she pushed him away, uncomfortable with the encounter.
Figueroa claimed Fletcher continued to pursue her via private messages and that she felt she had to “mimic his erotic tone” out of fear Fletcher would ruin her career. By October 2022, Figueroa said she told Fletcher she was afraid of being dragged into a scandal and that they should keep their relationship professional.
Then, in December 2022 during another MTS Executive Committee meeting, Figueroa alleged that Fletcher messaged her to suggest they meet in the adjacent conference room again. When Figueroa arrived, she claimed, Fletcher asked her to close the door and then grabbed her breasts, pulled off some of her clothes, exposed her breasts, put his mouth on her nipple and shoved his hand over her vaginal area. Figueroa said she pushed Fletcher and told him to stop.
In the lawsuit, Figueroa does not say that she at any point had a consensual relationship with Fletcher. She acknowledges flirtatious text messages but describes every physical encounter as unwanted.
That’s distinctly different than what Fletcher’s said in a Wednesday morning statement, released before Figeuroa’s complaint was available publicly.
Fletcher admitted to what he called a “terrible mistake” in engaging in what he described as a consensual affair outside his marriage. He denied the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“This individual and an attorney demanded 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,” Fletcher wrote.
On Feb. 6, Figueroa claimed she was abruptly fired and ordered to leave immediately. That same day, Fletcher launched his now-defunct state Senate campaign.
Later, Figueroa said she tried to engage in settlement discussions with Fletcher but he soon “resorted to threats of bullying, intimidation, and defamatory legal action.”
On March 26, the day Fletcher announced he was going to an extended rehabilitation program, Figueroa alleged that his attorney revealed that Fletcher and Gonzalez planned to sue Figueroa and her attorney for extortion if she filed a civil suit and that they would make Figueroa “look terrible, and it’s going to follow her for the rest of her life.”
Fletcher’s attorney Danielle Hultenius Moore said Fletcher and Gonzalez said the allegations were false and an attempt to drive headlines.
Moore also wrote that Fletcher didn’t have authority over Figueroa’s employment and alleged that Figueroa had tried to extort Fletcher and Gonzalez for millions of dollars.
“We have asked the authorities to investigate these efforts and are pursuing our own legal response,” Moore wrote.
Karen Landers, MTS’s general counsel, said in a statement that the agency was aware of the lawsuit from a former employee, but does not comment on pending litigation. She confirmed that Fletcher had resigned from the agency Tuesday, and that Whitburn will act as chair until the board can appoint a permanent replacement.
The lawsuit alleges that San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera may have known or suspected that Fletcher had an inappropriate relationship with Figueroa.
Elo-Rivera issued a statement denying that.
“It has come to my attention that I am mentioned in Ms. Figueroa’s lawsuit against Supervisor Fletcher and MTS. I am alarmed by the allegations against Mr. Fletcher and am very disappointed to learn there was inappropriate conduct. Sexual relationships between a person in a position of power and an employee are unacceptable and unprofessional. I was completely unaware until today of any inappropriate conduct or communications between Ms. Figueroa and Supervisor Fletcher, and I do not condone such behavior,” he wrote.
Fletcher shocked the San Diego political world Sunday evening when he announced he was abandoning his state Senate campaign and checking himself into rehab to deal with post-traumatic stress from his military career, trauma from his childhood and alcohol abuse.
Fletcher has been the most prominent elected official in San Diego since becoming the face of the Democratic takeover of the Board of Supervisors and then the most prominent county leader overseeing the agency’s response to Covid-19.
But the way he announced his decision to enter rehab will surely haunt his legacy. After he cited the trauma and mental health challenges he faced, elected officials and political professionals praised him for his bravery and willingness to combat the stigma of mental illness.
“It takes true courage to prioritize self-healing,” said Gretchen Newsom, political director for IBEW 569, the local electricians’ union. “We’ve got your back, @nathanfletcher.”
“Important reminder politicians are human beings,” wrote political consultant Eva Posner. “Nothing but respect for seeking help, prioritizing health and family, and facing the challenge head on.”
“Nathan, this is painful for us to learn and I’m so sorry,” wrote Rep. Scott Peters. “I’m 100% behind you as you take care of yourself and your family.”
“It takes courage to seek help,” wrote Supervisor Nora Vargas. “Thank you @SupFletcher for openly sharing your personal struggles.”
“Nathan, you’re very brave,” wrote La Mesa Councilman Colin Parent. “I know you’ll get through this.”
What he would need to get through, however, got far messier by Tuesday night when word of the lawsuit spread. Elected officials who rallied to support him seemed like they may regret it as the allegations emerged.
The night Fletcher made his announcement, Gonzalez herself issued a less sympathetic statement about what he was going through.
“I love my husband and appreciate his willingness to put our family first,” she wrote.
Look at #59 in the lawsuit. That’s a big crime.
I believe Nathan fletcher. This woman is obviously another amber turd trying to ruin this man’s life and reputation. I hope she gets dragged in court and I pray once the
Truth comes out she never finds employment in the state of CA. Sick of these lying women who make the rest of us look bad. No sympathy for that liar
We let this man determine public policy and spend countless millions of our tax dollars. The other politicians in office now all lined up to support him in his new election, let’s not forget that they all share the same goal of lasting as long as they can no matter the consequences for all of us and the country.
Nathan sounds like the type of guy to use his military service for cheap points to get elected but resign because he’s arranging clandestine nocturnal meetings with obese women in hotel stairwells.
This is a clear abuse of power by all parties involved.
I hope this article serves as a warning for my husband.
When negotiation is not an option, it is strategic to go public with the truth versus being extorted.
If anyone needs help being professional I need a job, just got my HR Certificate.
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