3 Berkeley High custodians sue over sexual harassment, gender discrimination

This is the second lawsuit since 2019 to describe a culture of sexual harassment and unequal treatment in Berkeley High’s custodial department.

The main office at Berkeley High School on Allston Way in Downtown Berkeley. Photo: Jerome Paulos.

Three female custodians currently working at Berkeley High filed a lawsuit against the Berkeley school district on April 18 that says administrators failed to protect them from a supervisor’s persistent sexual harassment and created a hostile workplace where women were denied the same opportunities and treatment as their male colleagues. 

The suit claims that Raymond Young, the district’s chief operations manager since 2019, oversaw a department in which female custodians were provided with inferior supplies, given less freedom to move around the school and take breaks, and assigned disagreeable tasks that male custodians were not. Women, who make up a minority of custodians at the school, were not allowed to learn how to wax the floors, the suit says, and were instead assigned jobs like picking up trash, raking leaves and cleaning their boss’ office.

Young’s deputy, the district’s custodial supervisor, routinely made sexual, and sometimes threatening, comments to his female employees, according to the suit filed in Alameda County Superior Court. He asked one woman if she was “ready to enjoy 45 minutes of sexual pleasure” and, on another occasion, told her she should fear being alone with him, according to the suit. He also made sexually suggestive gestures and comments related to pulling her hair and often referred to her by a derogatory term in Spanish, even after she’d asked him to stop, the suit says. (The three custodians requested not to be named in this story for fear of retaliation.)

Inappropriate behavior sometimes happened in plain view of Young, the suit says, but he did nothing to stop it. When one woman complained, Young mocked her, the suit says. 

After reporting harassment, one custodian was issued a letter of reprimand, which the suit described as unwarranted and retaliatory. 

Superintendent Brent Stephens said the school district conducts “careful investigations” into matters of employee safety and allegations of sexual harassment. 

“BUSD feels confident that it took appropriate steps in the matter described in this lawsuit, though we are not at liberty to discuss any details of the case,” Stephens wrote in a statement to Berkeleyside. 

Young did not respond to repeated requests for comment via his BUSD email address and phone numbers found online.

Many of the allegations in the suit mirror an earlier lawsuit filed against the district in 2019 by the same Oakland law firm, Levy, Vinick, Burrell, and Hyams. 

In that 2019 suit, a different female custodian accused Young — then the district’s custodial supervisor — of enabling “a sexually hostile work environment” by failing to stop a male custodian from sexually harassing her or from making lewd, sexual comments toward high school students. 

Young “engaged in an on-going pattern of retaliation and discrimination” against the female custodian, the suit claimed. After reporting being harassed, she said she was not given the equipment she needed to do her job, was forced to carry over 30 keys instead of being given one master key, and had to do extra cleaning duties after she was denied substitute coverage during her time off.

Her lawsuit is scheduled to go before a jury this August. The custodian is no longer employed by the district. 

According to the lawsuit filed in April, Berkeley Unified never counseled or disciplined Young for failing to take action after receiving a report of sexual harassment, and he was promoted to plant facilities operations manager in August 2019, three months after the first suit was filed. (Berkeleyside requested Young’s disciplinary records Tuesday but has yet to receive a response from the district.)

“It does seem as though there is this small cadre of cronies in that department, who are all male, and have been running the place for quite some time, and they’re protecting each other,” said Jean Hyams, an attorney for the custodians.

Hyams said her clients are “ready to see change.”

“They don’t want to be coming to a workplace where they feel like they’re second-class citizens or where they feel they’re at the whim of superiors who aren’t affording them respect,” she said.

Berkeley High had 16 custodians on staff last fall, according to the school’s student newspaper.

Young, the three custodians now suing the district, and Young’s deputy (their direct supervisor) are all currently employed by Berkeley Unified.

Ally Markovich covers education for Berkeleyside. Email: ally@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: allymarkovich.