Bernal and Mineau

Sheriff Steve Bernal (right) with John Mineau on the day of Mineau's swearing in on Aug. 8, 2016. 

A second woman has sued Monterey County and recently retired undersheriff John Mineau over alleged sexual harassment, and an ongoing failure to stop the behavior. 

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 1 in Monterey County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages for sexual harassment, sex discrimination, failure to investigate and prevent harassment, and retaliation, all violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. 

Like another woman who experienced a similar pattern of allegedly harassing messages from Mineau, this plaintiff is identified in court papers as Jane Doe. She has worked for the county Sheriff's Office since June of 1987. 

The lawsuit lays out the same details first reported by the Weekly in September, a pattern of behavior that the Monterey County Civil Rights Office investigated and corroborated. According to Jane Doe, Mineau sent messages that were sexual in tone, via Facebook Messenger, late in the evening. 

According to the lawsuit and interviews, she repeatedly tried to stop the behavior. After one message from Mineau at 10:23pm on Nov. 29, 2018, she responded: "You really should put your phone away," according to the suit.

Just a few days later, the lawsuit reads, she walked into Mineau's office and confronted him, expressing that his messages were bad not just for her and the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, but for women in general. 

And that, she tells the Weekly, is a big part of why she is now suing: She wants the system to improve for women employees now, and who come after. 

"I really didn't want it to come to this," she says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I am not seeing any changes at the Sheriff's Department. Nobody from the upper administration in the Sheriff's Department has even contacted me to even say that they are aware of this situation. If I saw some change or that this was being dealt with, it would be different. But I feel like the only way something is going to be done is if we force the issue."

The lawsuit reiterates the complaint that the county's Civil Rights Office investigated—that Jane Doe reported the behavior to her supervisor, John Thornburg. Instead of taking her seriously, the lawsuit states, "Thornburg responded in a flippant manner, 'I didn’t realize you guys were that close.'”

When Jane Doe later learned from a colleague that she was receiving similar messages, she again reported the behavior.  

Then in 2019, both she and Thornburg applied for a promotion to the position of Chief of Enforcement Operations; Jane Doe did not get the job. Thornburg did. 

Beyond the specific allegations, the lawsuit articulates the bigger problems with sexual harassment within the organization: "Within the hierarchy and power structure of the Sheriff’s Department, it was highly inappropriate for Mineau to be messaging subordinates late at night on Facebook," the lawsuit reads. 

Mineau retired in September. Thornburg was promoted to the position of acting undersheriff, a position he still holds. 

A third woman has since spoken to the Weekly, on the condition of anonymity, sharing similar allegations. She says she reported to Mineau for part of the time she worked in the Monterey County Sheriff's Office in a civilian capacity, and also received sexual messages via Facebook Messenger. In addition, she says he made comments in person that she understood as a form of intimidation to keep her quiet. 

Monterey County Counsel Les Girard says the county has no comment at this time; Thornburg, also a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office, did not respond to a request for comment.

On Oct. 25, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors talked about ways they may try to exert some influence and oversight over the Sheriff's Office amid various scandals, and multiple lawsuits. 

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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