Dept. of Fair Employment & Housing finds no violation of laws; Kalasho retains right to sue over alleged discrimination
By Miriam Raftery
February 3, 2018 (El Cajon) – The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), in a letter sent to El Cajon Councilman Ben Kalasho on January 22, advised that following an investigation, the agency has closed a complaint filed by Kalasho against the City of El Cajon, Mayor Bill Wells and Councilman Gary Kendrick.
Kalasho, who is of Iraqi descent, claimed he was harassed and discriminated against based on his national origin. “I was denied a work environment free of discrimination and/or retaliation and subjected to differential treatment,” he contended in his complaint.
The state’s letter affirms that DFEH closed the case based on lack of jurisdiction, adding, “DFEH is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes a violation of the statute.”
However the agency also confirmed that Kalasho retains a right to sue by hiring his own attorney to file a civil complaint under the Fair Employment and Housing Act within one year after receiving the DEFH letter.
Kalasho’s complaint has also been dual filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Kalasho has a right to request that EEOC perform a substantial weight review of its findings within 15 days after receiving the state’s letter.
Kalasho alleged that verbal harassment included comments such as “Camel”, “Foreigner” and “Does Ben even know the Pledge of Allegiance?” He claims he never reported the alleged harassment to anyone “out of fear that nothing would be done.” He also claimed he was not allowed to put issues on the agenda without approval by another council member and was not called on to speak at public events.
Kendrick, in his response to the complaint, denied Kalasho’s claims in full. He states, “I don’t use language or words such as he outlined in the complaint…I’m sure if you interviewed our other long time Iraqi City Council Member, Star Bales… she would confirm this.” Bales left office in 2016. Kendrick continued, “The accusations against myself and Mayor Wells are “outrageous, completely untrue and no one who knows us or observes our City Council meetings (all of which are on tape, by the way) would ever believe the allegations.”
Wells, in his response, states flatly, “I have never verbally harassed Mr. Kalasho based on his national origin.” He denies ever using the derogatory terms publicly or privately that Kalasho claimed. He, too, noted that the Council had a prior Iraqi member and says he never heard of any such accusations prior to Kalasho’s complaint.
Wells contended that Kalasho’s complaint “is, in my opinion, intended to be a political attack against myself and Mr. Kendrick. It has no basis in fact. Mr. Kalasho is well known for using such intimidation tactics against other people. He regularly threatens the rest of the City council with legal action, for no good reasons.”
Kalasho has indicated he may challenge Wells for the mayoral seat. If he were to opt to seek reelection to the Council, he would have to square off against Kendrick, since redistricting has put both in the same district. He has previously threatened to sue the city for its redistricting plan and claimed discrimination after Council banned use of internet-connected devices by Council members during public hearings.
Council did seek to restrict the number of agenda items any Council member could place on an agenda annually, but rejected a proposal to require two members’ approval and ultimately held public meetings to allow input from the public and members. Kalasho has placed items on the agenda unilaterally and has spoken at some civic events on behalf of the city.
In his 73-page response, Wells attached numerous news articles including works published in the San Diego Union-Tribune and East County Magazine documenting a series of legal setbacks for Kalasho including a jury finding of fraud against Kalasho over a business dispute, The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finding of a trademark violation by a Chamber of Commerce run by Kalasho, the California Attorney General revoking the nonprofit status of a beauty pageant operated by Kalasho’s chamber, a lawsuit filed against Kalasho filed by a taco shop owner claiming retaliation and defamatory actions by Kalasho for not allowing Kalasho to post campaign signs at the site, and a lawsuit filed against Kalasho by beauty pageant queens alleging sexual harassment, fraud and posting fake nude photos in retaliation for a business dispute. His countersuit against those plaintiffs was thrown out by a judge, who found Kalasho’s action to be a SLAPP suit intended to intimidate or prevent plaintiffs from exercising their legal and First Amendemnt rights.
The articles also document that Kalasho has a pattern of threatening, harassing and attempting to intimidate media outlets, reporters and editors for publishing truthful and fully documented articles on his legal and ethical controversies. In addition, Kalasho cost city taxpayers a substantial sum due to voting on liens for unpaid trash collection instead of recusing himself after his Chamber accepted thousands of dollars from Waste Management, the city’s tax hauling service. The City had to issue new public notices and hold a revote, from which Kalasho then recused himself.
The Cty, in its response to the state over Kalasho's complaint, noted that Kalasho is not a city employee, but rather an elected official, and thus “has no standing,” arguing that he would not be entitled to recovery under the laws that protect employees. The city further argued that there is no evidence of discrimination or pervasive harassment, and that Kalasho has not suffered tangible damages. The City asked that the complaint be dismissed.