A suit accuses Nathan Fletcher of sexual harassment and assault
Days after his state Senate campaign to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse ended, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher was charged as part of a trial for allegedly harassing and sexually assaulting a staff member of the transit agency whose board he headed for years.
The civil lawsuit was filed Tuesday night by a former employee of the Metropolitan Transit System, which operates San Diego’s streetcar and bus system. Fletcher on Tuesday resigned from his board of directors, which he had chaired since 2019.
The plaintiff is Grecia Figueroa, a former TV reporter who worked at MTS until she was fired last month in what she says was an act of retaliation. Its lawsuit names both Fletcher and MTS as defendants.
She says she was fired the same day Fletcher announced he was running to succeed state Sen. Toni Atkins, who is facing term limits, to represent the 39th District.
“She received no warning, no opportunity to speak with her supervisor or anyone else at MTS, and she had to leave immediately without gathering any of her personal effects,” the lawsuit alleges.
The allegations rocked the supervisor’s staff on Wednesday, prompting the immediate resignation of two political advisers.
In her lawsuit, Figueroa, 34, accused Fletcher of harassing her social media profiles and initiating a flirtatious relationship that she says could end her career due to her role as chairman of the board of directors of his agency.
She said she noticed in 2021 that Fletcher had started viewing her posts on Instagram and other platforms, including personal photos like one of her posing in a bikini. Later, he started sending her direct messages, according to her costume.
“Defendant Fletcher once described her as a ‘natural Peruvian beauty,'” the lawsuit states.
The exchanges progressed, largely because Figueroa was afraid to reject Fletcher’s advances due to his role as president of MTS, his suit adds. The text exchanges became more suggestive, even as Fletcher insisted on being “low key”.
“I just got home. I had to teach 3 hours of class at UCSD!! All amplified by the class and the students!!! And all alone at home tonight,” Fletcher texted in May last.
“I’m 100% into trying to find things in life that make you happy. And feel good and fun,” Fletcher wrote in later posts. Reiterating his insistence on discretion, he added: “I have a closet. No one would see us there :)”
Figueroa alleged that Fletcher also began watching and messaging her at MTS meetings and at least one press event.
At one point, according to his lawsuit, he asked her to meet him at an MTS conference room, where he began kissing and groping her. At another, he grabbed her breasts under her blouse, adds her tailor.
Other exchanges included in the lawsuit appeared to confirm a series of secret interactions, as well as at least one night visit to Fletcher’s hotel, where they met in a stairwell.
“I could ditch the security guys to go for a walk late at night, but I couldn’t stay long,” Fletcher said in a text message to Figueroa. “Or we could try to plan another night but not on such short notice.”
Fletcher, who is now seeking out-of-state treatment, released a statement on Wednesday acknowledging what he called a “terrible mistake” but broadly denying the lawsuit allegations without specifying them.
He said he was committed to repairing the damage done to his marriage to Lorena Gonzalez, the former state assemblywoman who is now the executive director of the California Federation of Labor.
Fletcher accused Figueroa of being willing to lie and embarrass his family in an effort to raise millions of dollars.
“I didn’t do what they claim, but I violated the fundamental trust and loyalty of my marriage and set a terrible example for our children,” he said.
MTS General Counsel Karen Landers said in a statement that the agency is aware of the allegations and has hired an independent law firm to investigate.
She said San Diego City Council member Stephen Whitburn would take over as the new president pending future action by the board.
Zachary Schumacher, the attorney representing Figueroa, declined to comment beyond the allegations in the complaint.
Social media profiles describe Figueroa as a former NBC Telemundo reporter from Las Vegas who graduated from California State University, Northridge in 2012.
According to her LinkedIn profile, she started working at MTS in 2019. Earlier this month, she wrote a blog post on International Women’s Day.
“If you’re a man, don’t just post about women’s rights, respect them in your personal life,” she wrote in the March 8 post, days after leaving MTS.
“Respect their boundaries, their bodies and how you treat them,” Figueroa added. “It’s hard to realize that we need to remind people that we are not objects of entertainment, and even harder when we realize that even those who say they support equal rights end up categorizing us as such.”
San Diego attorney Danielle Hultenius Moore is representing Fletcher in the litigation. She said in a joint statement with Fletcher that her client and his wife had to pay millions of dollars to avoid the threat of embarrassment.
“We have asked authorities to investigate these efforts and are pursuing our own legal response,” Moore wrote. “The allegations are false and are designed to grab headlines and not tell the truth.”
The allegations cited in the lawsuit reflect only part of the communications between Fletcher and his accuser, the attorney said.
“The simple truth is that Ms. Figueroa sued my client, their interactions were consensual, and Mr. Fletcher did not and never had authority over his employment,” she said. “We will aggressively fight this issue in court and the full record will show the truth.”
Figueroa said in her lawsuit that she attempted to begin discussing a possible settlement with Fletcher after she left MTS and before moving forward, but the talks proved unsuccessful.
“These discussions were short-lived, however, as Fletcher soon resorted to threats of intimidation, intimidation and defamatory legal action against Ms. Figueroa if she ever revealed her story,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit says Figueroa was told on Sunday that Fletcher intended to sue her for extortion if she filed a lawsuit. Later that day, Fletcher publicly announced that he was quitting the Senate campaign and beginning treatment, the lawsuit adds.
Fletcher became the first Democrat elected to the County Board of Supervisors in years, when he defeated former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis for the open seat in 2018.
His election represented a major turnaround for a county board that had been Republican-dominated for decades. It was also a turnaround for Fletcher, who had served two terms in the state Assembly as a Republican before twice losing races for mayor of San Diego.
Fletcher won re-election as Fourth District Supervisor in November, defeating Republican challenger Amy Reichert, a local opposition leader to county actions on COVID-19, including mask and vaccine mandates.
By noon Wednesday, Reichert and others had taken over the lawsuit.
Reichert used the lawsuit to try to raise money for his new campaign for a seat on the Republican Central Committee.
The Reverend Shane Harris has called on Fletcher to resign from the County Board of Supervisors.
“The moral and legal implications here speak for themselves, and that’s enough to really step aside and let new leaders take the stage at both MTS and County District 4,” Harris said.
Other condemnations came from former San Diego councilman Carl DeMaio and El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells — both Republicans — as well as former Democratic Assemblyman Lori Saldaña.
California Daily Newspapers