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'Compassionless': Lawsuit says Bernie Sanders campaign demoted staffer day after cancer surgery

NBC News logo NBC News 7/10/2020 Dareh Gregorian
Bernie Sanders wearing a suit and tie © Provided by NBC News

The former California political director for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign says she was demoted a day after undergoing cancer surgery and forced to quit after the campaign ignored her harassment and discrimination complaints.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Susie Shannon said it was the Sanders' campaign's "outrageous and compassionless conduct" that "resulted in her forced resignation solely because she had the misfortune of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer that required major surgery to treat the disease."

The campaign then tried to get her to sign a non-disclosure agreement in return for money, the suit says. Shannon's lawyer, Micha Star Liberty, told NBC News the campaign also offered her client two months of health insurance if she signed. Shannon refused.

"It's so disappointing that a political campaign that purported to stand for so much, including access to healthcare and workers' rights, would behave this way," Liberty said.

a woman smiling for the camera: Susie Shannon. (Courtesy Susie Shannon) © Courtesy Susie Shannon Susie Shannon. (Courtesy Susie Shannon)

A spokesman for the Sanders campaign, Mike Casca, said, "We've not received this lawsuit and we don't comment on litigation."

The campaign official accused of demoting her, Rafael Navar, called the allegation "completely false," and said Shannon's "position never changed." The suit says Navar brought on a second political director and assigned her Shannon's work.

A spokesman for the Sanders campaign, Mike Casca, said, "We've not received this lawsuit and we don't comment on litigation."

Shannon, a homeless advocate who was a Sanders delegate in 2016, was named the campaign's California political director in May of 2019, the suit says. That September, she was diagnosed with cancer, and told campaign brass she needed to undergo surgery and would be on medical leave for two to six weeks, the court papers say.

Shannon had "approximately 15 inches of tumors from the ovaries that extended into her abdominal area" that were removed in the Oct. 7th operation, the filing says.

The day after the surgery, the suit says, Shannon got a phone call in her hospital room from Rafael Navar, the campaign's state director, telling her she was being demoted. "Navar bluntly stated that he had no confidence in her ability to do her job given her cancer and surgery and that he was bringing in someone else to do her job," the suit says.

Shannon said she was "devastated" and reached out to campaign adviser Chuck Rocha, Navar's supervisor. He "casually responded that he supported Navar in whatever decision he decided to make," the suit says. It does not name Rocha as a defendant.

Fearing "losing her health insurance," Shannon said she felt she had to get back to work. She was released from the hospital on Oct. 10th, and began working that morning, the suit says.

"Because Shannon had open surgery, she had hundreds of stitches inside and outside the abdominal cavity. She was not able to pick up anything, not even pots or pans. Shannon’s friends and family took shifts helping to prepare food, clean the house, and take her daughter to and from school," and had to help her move her laptop around and get to and from work events, the suit says.

Shannon reported Navar to the campaign's human resources director, who said she would address her complaints but "never did," the suit says.

An emboldened Navar "continuously scolded, undermined," criticized and ostracized Shannon, despite her continuing to perform her duties "fully and successfully," the suit says.

After further complaints about his behavior were ignored, Shannon "felt that she had no other choice but to resign" in December, the suit says.

The suit seeks unspecified money damages.


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