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State senator accused in sexual harassment case

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton
Photo courtesy sbctc.org

By Ashley Wright

January 24, 2008

Former President Pro Tem of the California State Senate John Burton was slapped with a $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday for alleged abuses against the female director of his nonprofit organization, the woman's lawyer said.

The suit accuses Burton of subjecting Kathleen Driscoll, executive director of the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, to a hostile, demeaning and sexually abusive work environment, her attorney Kelly Armstrong said.

His lawyer has denied the allegations, calling the suit "a shakedown."

Driscoll worked since August 2006 as director of the San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that works to help homeless children in California, according to the foundation's Web site. The organization was founded in 2004 and is chaired by Burton, according to the Web site.

Driscoll alleges that Burton engaged in a "pattern and practice of inappropriate sexual advances," publicly humiliated her with his remarks, and used vulgar language on a daily basis starting shortly after she began working for the foundation and continuing for more than one year.

Driscoll reported that she had told Burton his behavior was inappropriate and had complained to the personnel department twice without action, according to the law firm's statement. Evidence including voicemails allegedly left by Burton and eyewitness accounts of his harassment will be included in the case, Armstrong said.

Burton's lawyer, Susan Rubenstein, said she has not reviewed the lawsuit in depth but believes it is "a shakedown."

"John Burton has dedicated nearly a half a century of great public service and has been in the public light for almost the entirety of his career and he has never once been accused of any sexual impropriety," Rubenstein said. "If he were really and truly a sexual harasser it would have been unearthed by now. He is 75 years old. We were surprised of this and we believe that at the end of the day his reputation and his character will be born out and he will be found innocent of all of these allegations."

Rubenstein added that Driscoll has been on record saying "flattering" things about Burton, and that Driscoll "wanted to go to the press and have her day for reasons unknown to us."

Driscoll retained counsel in August 2007 and took medical leave from her job the same month, her lawyer said. She has not decided if she will return to the position, Armstrong said. The lawsuit has been filed against Burton personally, and Driscoll will not be seeking damages from the foundation.

"The $10 million is intended to send a message to Sen. Burton and all powerful and prominent men across the United States that they can no longer subject the women who work for them to unlawful sexual harassment in the workplace without being held personally responsible for their actions," Armstrong said.





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