- In 2011, the office of then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris paid nearly $ 35,000 in a mysterious agreement with a top aide who tacitly left the office. This shows a document that insiders had received from public records upon request.
- The settlement has long been an open secret in Harris 'political orbit and reappeared during Harris' offer at the White House when it emerged as the top contender for Joe Biden's presidential election.
- Details of the dispute are not apparent from the document, which contains a confidentiality language that prevents Harris & Bureau and her former adjutant Terri Carbaugh from discussing their settlement.
- "It's strange," said Michael Genest, a former chief financial advisor to then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also worked in several other California agencies. He said Harris could have fired a political officer "for any reason or for no reason" unless it was a prohibited reason, such as discrimination or retaliation.
- Chris Dodd, the former Connecticut Senator leading the Biden vice president team, has been informed of the deal, and WilmerHale, a law firm involved in Harris' VP review, is in possession of the settlement document, a former Harris confirmed Employee.
- Harris was a leading critic of nondisclosure agreements used to protect against workplace harassment. There is no evidence that the agreement with Carbaugh included allegations of harassment, but neither Carbaugh nor Harris & # 39; agents would further explain the records of the dispute or why this required the use of an NDA.
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Insiders have learned that a mysterious ten-year-old document from Senator Kamala Harris' tenure as Attorney General in California triggered a series of unanswered questions related to a $ 34,900 settlement agreement signed with a top aide who did has tacitly left her office.
The 13-page document – Obtained from insiders upon request from public records – provides insight into a 2011 dispute involving Harris and her top advisor Terri Carbaugh. Carbaugh, a longstanding political agent from the same political circles as Harris in San Francisco, eventually became her deputy in the AG's office.
The deal has been circulating in the media for at least a year, although it appears that no one has specifically mentioned it in their coverage. It reappears when Harris appears on the shortlist as a suspected candidate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Chris Dodd, the former Connecticut Senator leading the Biden vice president team, has been informed of the settlement, and WilmerHale, a law firm involved in Harris' VP review, is in possession of the settlement document, said a former Harris Employee.
The settlement appears to end a lawsuit between Carbaugh and Harris’s office, although there are few details on the underlying problem. The document shows that both sides avoided a potentially lengthy and expensive litigation. Carbaugh walked away with nearly $ 35,000 in taxpayers' money in return for dropping her own claim for damages related to her employment there, and both sides promised to remain silent.
"It's strange," said Michael Genest – a former chief financial advisor to then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also worked in several other California agencies – when asked to check the document at the request of insiders. He said Harris, as the Attorney General, could have fired a political officer "for any reason or for no reason" unless it was a prohibited reason, such as discrimination or retaliation.
Sabrina Singh, a senior adviser on Harris' political operation, declined to comment on the details of the dispute. But she said, "Senator Harris is against the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence someone. She fully supports the release of Terri Carbaugh from this NDA if she so wishes."
The settlement is one of several that was achieved when Harris served as Attorney General in California for six years from January 2011. It is also noteworthy that a nondisclosure agreement is included. Although the NDA is relatively narrow in this settlement, and NDAs are not uncommon under settlement agreements, they have become a focus in the # MeToo movement. Harris has resisted her since she was elected to the Senate in 2016. It introduced laws in 2018 to limit the possibilities of the NDA, arguing that overly broad agreements promote a "culture of fear and silence".
Powerful politicians such as President Donald Trump and former Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg are among those who have come under fire due to the use of NDAs.
There is no evidence that the agreement with Carbaugh included allegations of harassment, but neither Carbaugh's nor Harris' representatives would elaborate on the records of the dispute or why it required the use of an NDA.
Biden's presidential campaign did not respond to requests for comments on this story.
Carbaugh "really had problems" in Harris' office, says a long-time friend
The legal spit with Carbaugh is a legend in Harris' orbit. The two women had ties to Willie Brown, the legendary former chairman of the California assembly, democratic "kingmaker" in the Golden State and former mayor of San Francisco, who was briefly with Harris in the mid-1990s. Carbaugh came to the Attorney General's Office with a resume, which included working as an adjutant and spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver. Ultimately, Harris and Carbaugh separated from the state DOJ after seven months. On her LinkedIn profileCarbaugh writes that she "assisted Harris in transitioning from her role as San Francisco District Attorney to the California Department of Justice."
But an April 2011 Press release edited by Harris & # 39; s office, Carbaugh's role was not described as a transitional role. Carbaugh was said to have overseen the department's $ 735 million budget and 3,700 non-lawyers. She was also Harris & # 39; "key link to the governor, legislature and other state and federal leaders".
The controversy surrounding Carbaugh's exit was an open secret in Harris' office. Several former Harris advisers and others in California political circles have said in interviews in recent weeks that they have long been aware of the existence of a settlement, but are unaware of the details. New executives in the AG office were told that Carbaugh had been fired, but the details were not discussed and it was a sensitive issue in the office, these people said.
Barbara O & # 39; Connor, emeritus professor at California State University in Sacramento and long-time friend of Carbaugh, said in an interview that she had heard of the settlement, but also admitted never to have spoken directly to Carbaugh about it.
"I knew her from other jobs and I knew in passing that she was really having problems," O & # 39; Connor in Harris & # 39; s office told Insider.
The settlement contains a non-disclosure language that prevents Carbaugh and the California Department of Justice from publicly discussing the agreement. It also includes a note with a paragraph in which Carbaugh emailed her departure and said, "The work of assisting the Attorney General and her wonderful transfer of staff to the job is essentially complete. … This was one wonderful experience and one that I will cherish for a long time. "
The agreement also included a pre-approved letter of recommendation that Harris signed for Carbaugh.
"Terri is a highly motivated officer," Harris wrote in the letter of recommendation. "I recommend Terri to serve unconditionally and with the highest esteem in any function she chooses."
When Carbaugh was asked to comment on this story last week, he emailed insiders an identical copy of this Harris letter of September 29, 2011 via email. She didn't answer any further questions.
As part of the settlement, Carbaugh agreed to spend the rest of her working days at home and referred outsiders who asked DOJ questions to Harris' top lawyer. Carbaugh's nameplate would stay on her office door during that time, and the department agreed to deliver her office furniture to her house.
After leaving Harris & # 39; s office, Carbaugh got a job as head of external relations for California State University in Long Beach. Carbaugh is now Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs at Brandman University in Irvine, California.
Billing raises questions
Michael Sorgen, whose company Carbaugh represented in 2011, said the agreement was not unusual for him. Worried is now retired and did not remember the details of Carbaugh's case.
But Genest, the California agency's longtime official, told Insider that it raises questions about why Harris' office paid Carbaugh tax money.
"Why should you spend money as good government practice to settle a dispute where you are absolutely right and indisputable?" he said. "The only reason you could do that is if there is a basis for a challenge."
Still, Genest added, "Many people are willing to pay, especially if it is not their own money to make people leave quietly."
The California Department of Justice said in a letter on Friday that Carbaugh had never filed a lawsuit against the DOJ and had no further documents on the allegations involved in the dispute.
A story of office disputes
The Harris Carbaugh settlement is one of several personnel disputes that have confused state and federal agencies throughout their careers. Her relationships with employees – and her role as manager – are now being scrutinized again, as she is the front runner of the Democratic vice presidential candidate. Biden said Tuesday that he expects to make the long-awaited announcement next week (though CNN on Friday reported that a decision may not be announced until the week of August 10).
In December 2018, a top advisor resigned from the Harris Senate office who had also worked in her AG's office after asking the Sacramento Bee Approximately $ 400,000 paid by the California Department of Justice to resolve a lawsuit filed against him by his former executive assistant for sexual harassment and retaliation.
Shortly before resigning, Harris made headlines for attacking the Supreme Court's Brett Kavanaugh affirmation after being accused of sexual assault.
"Let's tell the truth that it was a denial of justice for women in this country and survivors of sexual assault, men and women." Harris said back then.
A Harris spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that Harris was "unaware of" the allegations against her former aide Larry Wallace and "takes allegations of harassment extremely seriously."
The Los Angeles Times also reported In March 2019, the California DOJ had paid more than $ 1.1 million to settle claims by employees that they were sexually harassed or rejected by their employees between January 2011 and January 2017, when Harris was in office . The Wallace settlement made up almost half of this total.
Harris' office told the newspaper that the senator knew nothing about the cases until The Times later alerted them. But Harris also said in a statement at the time: "As manager of a department with almost 5,000 employees, the money stopped with me."
"Nobody should be harassed or intimidated at work, and victims of sexual misconduct should be heard, believed and protected," Harris added.
The Carbaugh settlement was not specifically mentioned in the Times investigation.
Harris is a leading Senate critic of NDAs
Years after Harris & # 39; s office signed the nondisclosure agreement with Carbaugh, the 2020 Senator and emerging presidential candidate emerged as the leading critic of nondisclosure agreements that can be used to disguise workplace harassment in 2020.
In 2018, Harris and Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski teamed up to write legislation This would prevent employers from forcing employees to sign confidentiality clauses about workplace harassment before they are hired or as a condition for employment or promotion. This bill would allow confidentiality clauses if "they were mutually agreed and would benefit both the employer and the employee."
Another bill Harris, which was sponsored with Senate Democrats last year, would also ban extensive nondisclosure agreements that prohibit the discussion of workplace harassment. Neither became law.
Efforts to ban these broad NDAs would help Harris "tackle a culture of silence" when it comes to workplace harassment.
The non-disclosure agreement between Carbaugh and Harris’s office is relatively limited, said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at Project On Government Oversight.
It is important to note that it prevents the parties from discussing only the details of the deal, not the facts that led to the deal. Hempowicz said: "This does not raise red flags for excessive stress."
Confidentiality agreements have been a hot topic among Democrats vying for the President's nomination for 2020.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren made headlines for questioning Michael Bloomberg during the February Democratic debate in Las Vegas. Since she grilled The former New York Mayor over the controversy and urged him to immediately release several women from such agreements who had brought suits against him and his international media company.
"None of them accused me of doing anything other than maybe not liking a joke I told," Bloomberg said in his Defense to Warren, in the midst of an audible groan from the audience. "These would be agreements between two parties who wanted to keep it quiet, and it's up to them. They signed those agreements and we'll live with it."
This exchange also attracted several other presidential candidates, including Biden, who repeatedly interjected "Come on."
Bloomberg later promised to release three women from their NDAs.
Biden, who denied allegations of sexual assault by a former employee, Tara Reade, said earlier this year that he had never asked any employee to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
"There is no NDA signed," said Biden in one May interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" after securing the Democratic nomination. "Nobody ever signed, I have never asked anyone to sign an NDA. In my case, there are no NDAs, period. None."