The Cesar Chavez Foundation fired its communications executive after she complained of discrimination, sexual harassment, and a range of other abuses. a new lawsuit alleges.
CCF management may have been involved with “improper and unethical financial dealings,” made disparaging and “sexist” comments to demean UFW veteran Dolores Huerta and homophobic comments against gays, according to the suit.
Jessica Estrella filed suit in the Los Angeles Superior Court against the CCF and its chairman and president, Paul F. Chavez, alleging “retaliation, wrongful termination, gender discrimination, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract,” MyNewsLA reports.
Nepotism is widespread throughout the constellation of Cesar Chavez-related groups. Paul F. Chavez is the son of UFW founder Cesar Chavez.
Estrella claims to have a video of CCF Executive Vice President Michael Nowakoswki “slandering gay people,” and says she recommended that the foundation cut ties with him “after the Arizona media reported on his improper and unethical financial dealings favoring the CCF,” according to the suit.
A CCF spokesman did not respond to the reporter’s request for comment.
Estrella is leader of a communications company that focuses on branding and public relations. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently named her as a member of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Commission.
According to the report, Estrella said she “met with Paul Chavez and Monica Parra, director of the National Chavez Center in the city of Keene, east of Bakersfield. Three months later, Estrella accepted an offer to become CCF Vice President of Strategic Communications. The position paid a $130,000 salary plus a bonus.
Three weeks after she took the job, Estrella said, CCF Human Resources director Richard Torres told her that Chavez had changed his mind about equipping her office.
“Mr. Torres proceeded to shut the door and spent roughly 90 minutes giving plaintiff an overview of the CCF, including the story of infidelities on the part of Paul Chavez and Monica Parra,” Estrella alleges in her suit.
“Torres said he was surprised Parra ‘allowed’ Chavez to hire Estrella because she was ‘attractive, described Parra as ‘fiercely jealous’ and gave the plaintiff tips on how she should behave around Parra if she ‘wanted to keep her job,'” according to the article, which cites the suit. Parra, Estrella alleged, was Chavez’s “girlfriend.”
The suit goes into a lot of distasteful details about alleged misconduct and abuse at the CCF, including sexism, a threat of violence, drunkenness, and a “hostile work environment.”
Dolores Huerta & Chavez biographer demeaned
“UFW co-founder and famed civil rights activist Dolores Huerta was referred to by the CCF’s management team ‘in gross, sexist terms when (Estrella) asked if Huerta could be included in meetings,’ the suit states,” according to the report.
CCF leaders referred to Miriam Powell, author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, in “similar derogatory terms,” the suit claims.
Homophobia, ‘improper and unethical financial dealings’
“Estrella additionally complained that Michael Nowakowski, the CCF’s executive vice president, was recorded on video slandering gay people and also recommended that the organization sever ties with him ‘after the Arizona media reported on his improper and unethical financial dealings favoring the CCF,’ but her concerns were ‘ignored and mocked,'” according to the report.
Estrella claims in her suit that the CCF fired her three months into the job, and had her escorted out of the offices. She said the she was offered a small payment if she would agree not to expose problems at CCF or sue the organization, but she rejected the money.
She said she was offered and rejected a small severance package that included a confidentiality provision and an agreement not to sue the CCF, according to her complaint.