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A former MTS employee filed a lawsuit Tuesday night alleging sexual assault and harassment against Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. Courtesy photo
A former MTS employee filed a lawsuit Tuesday night alleging sexual assault and harassment against Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. Courtesy photo
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Supervisor Fletcher faces lawsuit for sexual assault, harassment

REGION — A sexual assault lawsuit filed against Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System comes just days after Fletcher announced he was ending his state senate campaign to enter treatment for alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The plaintiff, Grecia Figueroa, 34, a former MTS employee, alleges Fletcher sexually assaulted her twice last year. Since 2019, Fletcher has served as the chairman of the MTS board of directors related to his duties as a county supervisor. 

The lawsuit, filed on March 28 in San Diego Superior Court, alleges sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment and retaliation, sexual assault and battery and whistleblower retaliation. Figueroa reported the alleged abuse to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which issued a right-to-sue letter authorizing Figueroa to file the lawsuit.

In the complaint, Figueroa’s attorney, Zach Schumacher, describes a situation of fear and power dynamics as his client feared for her career and reputation.

Figueroa, a native Peruvian who has lived in the U.S. since she was 13, recently posted to her blog a piece on March 8 (International Women’s Day) about respecting women’s rights.

“If you are a man, don’t just post about women’s rights, respect them in your personal life,” Figueroa wrote. “Respect their boundaries, their bodies, and how you treat them. It’s hard to realize that we have to remind people that we aren’t objects for their entertainment, and even harder when we realize even those who say they support equal rights end up categorizing us as such.” 

The lawsuit and allegations

In May 2021, Figueroa, who was working as an MTS public relations specialist, noticed Fletcher was viewing her Instagram account without following her, known as “lurking,” the lawsuit states. Figueroa said she wasn’t sure if it was Fletcher or one of his staffers looking at her account.

During an MTS event in November 2021, Fletcher allegedly approached Figueroa, asking, “How you been?” Figueroa claims she found the remark odd since she had never interacted with Fletcher, the lawsuit reads. 

On Valentine’s Day in 2022, Fletcher approached Figueroa after a press conference and put his arm around her shoulder “without her consent,” and made a comment about one of her social media posts. Figueroa was able to confirm Fletcher was “stalking” her Instagram account for the past six to nine months, according to the complaint. 

Two weeks later, Figueroa alleges Fletcher sent her a direct message saying he was at home with no wife (former state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez) or kids. Fletcher reportedly sent her similar messages at least two more times through May 2022, according to Instagram messages contained in the lawsuit. At the time, Fletcher and his family were staying in a hotel after a fire broke out at their San Diego home.

Fletcher then allegedly begins to “solicit” Figueroa to meet outside of work, the lawsuit claims. To maintain discretion, Fletcher reportedly asked Figueroa to delete her messages, noting his staff has access to his accounts, “so delete as we go.”

On May 12, Fletcher asked Figueroa to come to the hotel since Gonzalez was out of town and he was putting the kids to bed. Fletcher asked if Figueroa would meet up for a drink at the hotel.

“Just one beer,” Figueroa responded.

When she got to the hotel, they entered a stairwell where Fletcher tried to kiss her. Figueroa “rejected the advance,” citing his marriage, and said she had no intention of meeting him outside of a conversation, the lawsuit reads. 

The lawsuit states Figueroa felt powerless and reluctantly agreed before Fletcher kissed her.

“Ms. Figueroa felt pressured to reciprocate Fletcher’s advances because she knew he had authority, as both a career-politician (sic) and as chair of the MTS board, to destroy her career at MTS and to potentially humiliate her publicly if she made him angry,” the suit reads.

The suit also claims Fletcher would send “private messages” from his cellphone during MTS board and executive meetings and media events.

On June 9, 2022, Fletcher texted Figueroa to meet in a room adjacent to the conference room. Once she entered and closed the door, the suit alleges Fletcher kissed her and “began to grab her breasts.” The lawsuit states Fletcher allegedly said, “No one will bother us in here.”

Figueroa pushed back, saying she was not comfortable and left.

During a meeting “in or around” September 2022, Fletcher locked eyes with Figueroa, which caused her to panic, the suit reads. The plaintiff saw the two people sitting next to Fletcher — MTS CEO Sharon Cooney and San Diego City Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera — could likely see the supervisor was messaging her.

Figueroa’s boss, Mark Olson, “seemed to notice” the interaction and appeared “unhappy about the interaction,” the complaint states. 

From that day on, Figueroa claimed she carried a sense of anxiety, wondering if the entire MTS staff knew Fletcher was pursuing her romantically. She rejected his advances because he was married and in a position of power, which could jeopardize her career and reputation.

“She felt trapped because, on one hand, Fletcher’s relentless pursuit of her was changing the conditions of her employment and would likely destroy her career,” the lawsuit reads. “On the other hand, she knew Fletcher was too powerful, especially within MTS, to risk upsetting by trying to make him stop.”

On Sept. 19, 2022, people started publicly accusing Fletcher of cheating on Gonzalez via Instagram. The following month, Figueroa told Fletcher to keep things professional, but he declined, saying, “This was just part of the game, that she should not believe everything people post online,” the lawsuit alleges.

On Dec. 1, 2022, the suit alleges Fletcher again asked Figueroa into the adjacent room where he “sexually assaulted her a second time” by grabbing her breasts, pulling off some of her clothes and “forcefully shoving” his hand over her “vaginal area.”

Figueroa said she was shocked and humiliated, according to the lawsuit, and told him she was nervous and insisted he stops his behavior. 

On Feb. 6, Fletcher announced his candidacy for California Senate. The same day, Figueroa was fired by Jeff Stumbo, a lead MTS human resources officer, with no warning, despite having good to excellent performance reviews, according to the complaint.

Once Figueroa retained a lawyer for pre-litigation discussions with Fletcher, he requested she “remain absolutely silent about her story.” Figueroa agreed, but it was short-lived after Fletcher “soon resorted to threats of bullying, intimidation and defamatory legal action if she brought the story to “light,” the suit claims.

On March 26, Fletcher and Gonzalez, through their attorney, said they intended to sue Figueroa for extortion if she filed a civil suit, according to Figueroa’s lawyer. The couple allegedly said they would make Figueroa “look terrible, and it’s going to follow her for the rest of her life,” the lawsuit claims. 

Later that night, Fletcher withdrew from the senate race and announced on social media he was seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress and alcohol abuse.

Fletcher’s response

Fletcher appeared to get ahead of the news breaking about Figueroa’s lawsuit filed at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday night by issuing a press release on Wednesday morning claiming he was anticipating a lawsuit containing “false allegations.” 

Fletcher and his attorney, Danielle Hultenius Moor, are claiming Fletcher and Gonzalez are facing a legal attempt to “obtain millions of dollars.” 

“Last year, I made a terrible mistake engaging in consensual interactions with someone outside my marriage,” Fletcher’s statement reads. “I made clear it could not continue or advance and desperately hoped I could leave this mistake in my past. However, this individual and an attorney demanded millions of dollars from me and my family with the threat of not only embarrassment but a willingness to lie about the circumstances and nature of interactions.”

Fletcher denied the accusations but admitted to consensual “interactions.” Fletcher said he violated the trust of Gonzalez and his family, whom he claimed are working through this situation.

In 2018, Fletcher tweeted how elected leaders should be held accountable to the public for sexual harassment, assault and any other workplace bullying investigations and settlements.

This may be the second extramarital affair for Fletcher. The Republican-turned-Democrat reportedly met Gonzalez while he was married to his first wife, Mindy Tucker Fletcher, sources told The Coast News.

Fletcher said he would check himself into an inpatient treatment facility this week after posting a statement on March 26 via social media. The statement said Fletcher was checking into the facility for post-traumatic stress, trauma and alcohol abuse and dropped out of his state senate race to focus on his health.

Fletcher said he’s been struggling for years with trauma from his tours as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and intense childhood trauma, which were exacerbated by alcohol abuse. County employees and staffers in each of the five supervisor offices were told Fletcher’s leave of absence is indefinite, according to sources.

Elected officials cannot lose their seats due to sickness, according to state law.

“With the recommendation of my therapist and the insistence of my wife, this week I will be checking into an extended treatment center for post-traumatic stress, trauma and alcohol abuse,” Fletcher said in his statement. “I have no doubt I will not only make a full recovery, but will come back stronger, more connected and present.”

CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated this was Nathan Fletcher’s second extramarital affair as a public official. Fletcher was not holding office when he met his current wife, Lorena Gonzalez. We regret the error. However, multiple sources have confirmed Fletcher and Gonzalez met during Fletcher’s first marriage to Mindy Tucker Fletcher.