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Former employee sues California Treasurer Fiona Ma alleging sexual harassment, wrongful termination

A former state employee is suing California Treasurer Fiona Ma alleging sexual harassment, wrongful termination and racial discrimination, according to a complaint filed last week in Sacramento Superior Court.

The lawsuit alleges Ma exposed her backside to Judith Blackwell, then the executive director of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, while the two shared a hotel room. The action made Blackwell "uncomfortable," according to the lawsuit, which says Blackwell was "fearful to comment on Ms. Ma's lewd behavior."

The complaint also says Ma gave Blackwell jewelry, paintings and edible marijuana as gifts, and that the women would go out to dinner together frequently, along with Ma's chief of staff.

In an email to The Bee, Ma denied Blackwell's allegations.

"I am saddened and disappointed by these baseless claims," Ma wrote. "I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support I've received today. To set the record straight, we have repeatedly refused to respond to the attorney's attempts to settle. We look forward to bringing the truth to light in court."

In May 2020, the complaint says Blackwell stayed with Ma at an Airbnb rental where Ma climbed into Blackwell's bed while she was trying to sleep. Blackwell pretended to be asleep "out of fear and confusion," it says.

Blackwell began working for Ma in September 2019 overseeing the state's housing tax credit program. She also oversaw the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee, a separate program in the Treasurer's office after Ma fired the director of that program, according to the complaint.

In September, Blackwell had a stroke that kept her from working for two months. When she returned, she says Ma assigned her enough work for two people and required her to work into the night, according to the complaint.

In January, Blackwell was fired, her lawyer Waukeen McCoy said.

Blackwell, who is African American, believes she was replaced by a "less-qualified Caucasian female," according to the complaint.

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