Woman says CEO favored white males, while isolating Black and female employees.
A former employee and CEO of the nonprofit San Diego Workforce Partnership has filed a lawsuit alleging race and gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Tabatha Gaines, a Black woman, worked as the organization’s director of people and culture from 2021 to 2022. Her lawsuit, filed recently in San Diego Superior Court, accuses San Diego CEO Peter Callstrom of favoring white male collaborators, isolating black and female employees, and subjecting them to extremely thorough micro-management and mistreatment.
The San Diego Workforce Partnership is a public-private partnership in charge of providing a variety of job preparation and placement services throughout the region. Two boards of directors govern the partnership: the Policy Board, constituted by elected representatives, and the Workforce Development Board, consisting of representatives appointed by the Policy Board from business, civil society, and labor factions.
The organization stated that it was aware of the lawsuit and had hired legal counsel. The statement also mentioned their commitment to creating a diverse and equitable workforce, detailed in their policy prohibiting bigotry, harassment, and retaliation.
The allegations in the lawsuit date back to the summer of 2021, when a supervisor from the San Diego Workforce Partnership sought Gaines’ advice on how to improve the performance of a black male worker. Gaines suggested that the employee be mentored and trained in the same way that others, including white males, were for similar performance issues. Nonetheless, according to Gaines’ testimony, Callstrom was determined to fire the employee.
According to the filing, Gaines approached Callstrom in September 2021 about an in-house poll that indicated the exclusion of Black applicants from a program run by San Diego Workforce Partnership. “Callstrom became agitated and defensive, claiming Gaines was making an accusation,” the complaint claims. “(Gaines) explained her aim was just to pay attention to the possible problem so it could be addressed. Nonetheless, Callstrom’s interactions with (Gaines) changed dramatically as a result of this encounter.”
According to the lawsuit, Callstrom excluded Gaines from executive team meetings and a committee devoted to equal opportunity, diversity, and incorporation in the following months. Furthermore, he prohibited her from communicating with the executive leadership team. “Callstrom enacted a harassing and retaliatory practice in the form of hyper-focused and consistent micro-management of Gaines,” the suit claims.
Gaines filed a complaint in the suit in March 2022, accusing Callstrom of harassment, retaliation, and a hostile work environment. Gaines eventually gave up on the internal investigation and resigned in June 2022. Furthermore, the lawsuit upholds illegal “constructive termination,” defined as an employer creating such an unbearable work environment that the employee feels compelled to resign. According to the complaint, the organization placed Callstrom on leave on November 22.
Callstrom has been the CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership since July 2012, according to his Linkedin profile. According to the organization’s 2020 tax filings, he received a salary of $237,277 and benefit payments of $43,445. The Policy Board’s closed session records show they deliberated on “substantial exposure to litigation” on November 21, 2022. On December 14, the executive committee of the Workforce Development Board had a similar discussion.