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Over the last month, a Seattle advocacy nonprofit famed for helping immigrant workers has spiraled into chaos over allegations that its management mishandled sexual misconduct allegations. This week, protesters announced that they’d embarked on a hunger strike. One of the four striking workers has already been hospitalized, according to a local TV news outlet.
Casa Latina, a 25-year-old group that received hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from the city of Seattle in 2020, has hired an outside investigator to look into claims of sexual harassment at the organization. Three workers have said they filed police reports against one staffer at the organization, accusing him of groping and verbal harassment. Others have complained that they’d been propositioned or inappropriately touched at Casa Latina events, while one woman, who had gotten job referrals at Casa Latina, said she was raped by a man who also received referrals through the organization.
After the allegations became public, Casa Latino said that the accused staffer had left the organization. But one of the workers who’d complained about the staffer, Lucina Carillo, said Casa Latino didn’t do enough to protect her.
The staffer had harassed Carillo for a year, she told the Seattle Times. On one occasion, he touched her breast; on another, he rubbed her backside when she bent over to pick up a dropped credit card. Carillo said she told the staffer to stop, as did her immediate supervisor. Eventually, she filed a human resources complaint.
“When the first complaint was filed, offices were quietly reorganized so that the person who filed the complaint would not have to be in the same building as the person they filed a complaint against during the investigation,” Casa Latina Executive Director Marcos Martinez said in a statement after news of the allegations broke. “Once a finding was made, the person who had the complaint against them did not physically return to Casa Latina.”
But Carillo told the Seattle Times that managers at Casa Latina did not move her desk away from the accused staffer’s desk for a full month.
Since the news broke, tensions have only escalated between Casa Latina and those who accuse it of enabling sexual misconduct behind closed doors. Protesters have camped outside Casa Latina’s main building, forcing it to shut down in-person programs like ESL classes and food distribution, and on Wednesday, protesters crashed a press conference where Martinez was speaking, accusing him of tolerating abuse.
Protesters have also refused to cooperate with the independent investigation, which is being led by a company called D Diamond Consulting, because D Diamond’s investigator previously worked with the IRS.
“The fact that you have hired someone that has worked for many years for the IRS demonstrates your lack of connection with the migrant community, who for good reasons fears giving information to government agencies like the IRS,” the protesters said in a statement, according to the Seattle Times.
Instead, the demonstrators want reparations and a board composed of survivors, day laborers, and others to handle the matter. They also want Martinez and another Casa Latina leader fired.