Sex harassment suit filed against Burton

January 23, 2008 6:34:59 PM PST
One of California's most powerful political figures has been hit with a multi-million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit.

The suit was filed today in San Francisco superior court against former state senator John Burton.

John Burton is a powerbroker in democratic circles. He's a long-time friend and advisor of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among others.

He's known for his salty language and flirtatious style, but his accuser says it went way beyond that, and after working for Burton since 2006, she hired a lawyer and filed suit today.

"Something that I don't want any other woman to have to go through," said Burton Foundation Executive Director Kathleen Driscoll.

Kathleen Driscoll says she endured lewd, sexually abusive and demeaning comments and treatment almost from the moment she began working for John Burton in September 2006.

Burton is a San Francisco Democrat who served in the U.S. House, then spent 26 years in the state legislature -- several as Senate President Pro-Tem. Term limits forced him out in 2005.

He then created a non-profit foundation to help homeless children. Today, his hand-picked executive director had her lawyer slap Burton with a $10 million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit accusing Burton of committing over 100 inappropriate acts.

"He publicly humiliated her by referring to her as a thong model in front of her colleagues. He bellowed on multiple occasions that her nipples were standing erect. He discussed his sex life with her in intimate details, including but not limited to telling her Viagra really works," said attorney Kelly Armstrong.

Burton's attorney says he's never sexually harassed anyone.

"If in fact he engaged in that kind of conduct you would have unearthed it long before now. He's 75-years-old and has been in the public life for all of his working life," said Burton's attorney Susan Rubenstein.

But Driscoll says she has witnesses, including unidentified prominent San Franciscans, and claims there are several voice messages like this one to back up her complaints of a hostile work environment.

"It's inexcusable. It's against the law and what I said to Burton everyday was its just not right to treat people this way," said Kathleen Driscoll.

Driscoll says she complained to the foundation's human resources department and they did nothing. We talked with the person in charge of H.R. who insists policy was followed.

Burton's attorney says the accusations are "a shakedown."

"It's obvious that she and her attorney have wanted to sensationalize this, put it in the press and ask for $10 million dollars and these kinds of allegations aren't worth dignifying," said Rubenstein.

Kathleen Driscoll remains as executive director of John Burton's foundation, but has been out on medical stress leave for several months. She says her lawsuit is aimed squarely at him, not at the agency.


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