Expert witnesses hired by the woman suing Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden for sexual harassment testified Wednesday that she is naive and has a low IQ, making her unable to adapt to quickly changing situations.
The witnesses, a psychologist and a psychiatrist, also said former Holden receptionist Marlee M. Beyda experienced depression and anxiety because of the alleged harassment at the hands of her boss.
But their prognoses diverged on at least one point, with one saying Beyda's condition has worsened recently and the other saying she has improved.
On cross-examination, one of the experts acknowledged that tests conducted by a psychologist working for Holden showed that Beyda has "significant potential" for misinterpreting others' motives, overreacting under stress and being manipulative.
Salvatore Mati, a UC Irvine professor of psychology, said Beyda's IQ registered 93 on a recent test, placing her near the bottom of the "normal" range. A battery of psychological tests ruled out brain damage in Beyda's case and pointed to a trauma-induced personality disorder, Mati testified.
"Once you've developed a way of thinking about something--a relationship . . . a job--if that relationship changes, you may get caught," Mati said to explain how Beyda's problems manifest themselves. "You kind of get stuck in your concepts, and you can't change them as the world changes."
That testimony was intended to help explain why Beyda, 31, returned to Holden's Marina del Rey apartment after work hours after he allegedly masturbated by rubbing his body against hers and forced her to touch his genitals, as she testified Tuesday. Holden has denied ever having sexual contact with Beyda.
"You kind of automatically keep doing the same thing without realizing, 'OK, I've done it before and it's not getting me anywhere,' " Harvard University psychiatrist Gloria Johnson-Powell, who evaluated Beyda in several interviews, testified.
"It was her naivete about the world and the kind of people in the world that kept her in a situation that was untenable," Johnson-Powell said. "She kept testing her theory that Mr. Holden was a nice man, and if she approached him in a nice way . . . he would be a friend. That naivete got shattered."
Johnson-Powell also testified that Beyda feared Holden would become violent if she tried to stop him and was afraid of losing a job she needed. Asked outside of court whether she believed Beyda was sexually harassed, Johnson-Powell said, "There is no doubt in my mind."
But the 66-year-old councilman brushed off the day's testimony as "gobbledygook." His attorney, Skip Miller, noted that Mati said Beyda's activity reports while she worked for Holden indicated an above-average intelligence, and that if her IQ dropped by the time she took the test earlier this year, "the only conclusion is the cause must be attributed to something else."
Dan Stormer, Beyda's lawyer, countered that "trauma and stress don't happen overnight in this type of thing. They happen over time."
Beyda, one of two women suing Holden for harassment and discrimination, is scheduled to return to the witness stand for cross-examination today as the non-jury trial enters its third week.