Law firm partner’s ‘disgusting and dirty’ behavior at strip club constituted sexual harassment, lawyer’s lawsuit alleges
A lawsuit accuses the managing director of a Fresno, Calif., law firm of taking firm employees to a strip club, where he faked oral sex, paid for booze with a corporate credit card and encouraged an associate to place dollar bills in strippers’ panties.
Now former associate Michelle Ritchie is the plaintiff in the July 1 sexual harassment lawsuit. She says the incident happened after a Christmas party on Dec. 10, 2021, at the Yrulegui & Roberts workers’ compensation defense firm in Fresno, California.
The party continued at a sports bar at the invitation of Fresno partner and general manager Joseph Yrulegui, according to the lawsuit. After several hours at the sports bar, Yrulegui “directed” several employees to take Uber or Lyft to the City Lights strip club, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states that Yrulegui intentionally provided an excessive amount of alcohol to Ritchie “and subjected her to unwanted sexual touching by proxy. He encouraged and paid for a lap dance with a stripper and subjected to her offensive simulated sexual acts with the various strippers. This was unintentional and was intended to sexually gratify Yrulegui, humiliate the complainant, and sexually prepare. In addition, the conduct was committed in the presence Plaintiff’s co-employees, which also adversely affected Plaintiff’s future relationship with the co-employees.”
Ritchie “had never been to a strip club before and did not realize how tacky and demeaning it was to the women who worked there, herself and her co-workers,” her lawsuit states.
At the strip club, Ritchie and other employees discussed Yrulegui’s “disgusting and dirty” behavior, according to the lawsuit. The employees “were also embarrassed, humiliated and uncomfortable” by the partner’s actions.
Ritchie’s father arrived at the strip club after becoming concerned because he noticed the location of Ritchie’s cell phone there. He sat apart from the group, saw Yrulegui’s actions and then confronted him.
Ritchie says she left the club “in tears” and was brought home by her father. Ritchie says she concluded she could no longer work at the law firm and was “constructively fired.”
The lawsuit alleges that Ritchie reported the incident to the president of the law firm, who told her she had no reason to complain because she voluntarily went to the strip club. She says the law firm hired an attorney who told her she would be blacklisted in the Fresno, Calif., area if she sued.
Ritchie, a Chapman University law graduate, was earning $90,000 at the time of the incident, according to the lawsuit. His job at Yrulegui & Roberts was his first job as a lawyer.
The lawsuit alleges sex discrimination, harassment, retaliation and failure to remedy discrimination under California law. He also alleges the infliction of emotional distress.
The suit says the law firm was aware of Yrulegui’s “propensity for sexually inappropriate conduct” due to his social media posts. She attached examples.
The defendants in the lawsuit are Yrulegui and Yrulegui & Roberts.
Yrulegui was not in the office when the ABA Journal called for comment. He did not immediately respond to an email. Senior associate Stephen B. Roberts also did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s email.
The Fresno Bee had covered the trial.
Yrulegui’s attorney, Howard Sagaser, told the Fresno Bee the incident was “a voluntary social outing” that was overblown. He also denied that Yrulegui & Roberts tried to interfere with Ritchie’s job search.