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
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
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.