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Teamsters official resigns amid harassment allegations

An ex-secretary alleged in a suit that James A. Santangelo, president of Joint Council 42 in Covina, subjected her to unwanted attention of a sexual nature. The suit was settled.

November 05, 2009|Patrick J. McDonnell

A top West Coast Teamsters official who headed a chapter representing almost 130,000 members has resigned his post amid allegations that he sexually harassed a former union secretary and offered to be her "sugar daddy."

James A. Santangelo, a 50-year Teamster veteran who also served as an international vice president, resigned Friday from his membership in Local 848 in Covina and was automatically removed from three elected positions, said Bret Caldwell, a spokesman in Washington, D.C., for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Santangelo, 70, was president of Teamsters Joint Council 42, based in Covina, and represents thousands of members in California, Nevada, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. He had also served as secretary/treasurer of Teamsters Local 848 since 1978.

"He was certainly not forced out, but I can't speak on his behalf," Caldwell said of Santangelo, who earned about $288,000 last year from his union posts, according to federal records. "We're waiting to see what other fallout could occur from this."

Santangelo, his deputy in Joint Council 42, Paul J. Mihalow, and the union attorney, Joseph J. Kaplon of Sherman Oaks, could not be reached for comment.

Santangelo's exit followed the settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit and a boisterous union meeting about the case during which some members assailed his behavior. Joint Council 42 agreed to settle the suit filed by Gina Corral, a former union secretary.

Corral alleged in the suit that Santangelo subjected her to "unwanted verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature" during her employment at the union, between May 2006 and June 2008. She also alleged she was fired "for complaining about sexual harassment and discrimination."

According to Corral's complaint, Santangelo's behavior included "offering to give her a raise in exchange for sex, repeatedly trying to kiss her on the mouth, showing and sending her sexually explicit e-mails, commenting on her breasts, asking to come to her hotel room during a business trip, [and] suggesting he be her 'sugar daddy.' "

During dinner at a hotel restaurant in March 2008, Corral alleged, Santangelo propositioned her as the two were discussing upcoming salary increases. "What if I said you can make $700 a week more if all you did was pass through those doors and go to a room with me?" Santangelo remarked, according to Corral's lawsuit.

Santangelo denied the allegations, and the case was settled in September. The terms of the settlement were confidential, but a source close to the case confirmed an online report by a rank-and-file group, the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, that the Teamsters had agreed to settle the matter for $500,000.

Santangelo is the latest high-profile union figure in Southern California in the last 15 months to become entangled in allegations of wrongdoing.

Tyrone Freeman of the Service Employees International Union was fired last year as head of a Los Angeles SEIU chapter in the wake of Times reports of financial improprieties. Annelle Grajeda, formerly the SEIU's highest-ranking California official, resigned in March amid an internal investigation of improper payments. And Alejandro Stephens, ex-president of the SEIU local that represents Los Angeles County government workers, pleaded guilty in August to federal fraud and tax charges.

Word of the sexual harassment suit against Santangelo and subsequent settlement had circulated among union members for weeks, several Teamsters officials said, prompting Santangelo to call a meeting to address the subject Oct. 25 in Long Beach. In a letter to local members, Santangelo urged them to attend and hear his version rather than "lies, distortions, made-up stories and untrue facts," according to one Teamster staffer who read the text of the letter.

However, several Teamsters among the several hundred who attended the session said it degenerated into a shouting match as Santangelo defended his actions. Some participants openly challenged Santangelo.

The group Teamsters for a Democratic Union is looking into the possibility of having Santangelo reimburse the payout to Corral.

"Why should the union be paying for Santangelo's misdeeds?" asked Ken Paff, national organizer for Detroit-based Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which first reported Santangelo's resignation on its website.

Santangelo was at one point said to be close to James P. Hoffa, the Teamsters president, though one colleague of Santangelo said the two were no longer on close terms. Hoffa had no comment on the departure of Santangelo, one of 24 international vice presidents of the Teamsters, which has 1.4 million members.

The Teamsters union, once notorious for corruption and mob influence, has operated with federal oversight since 1989 under the terms of a consent decree.

In 1999, an independent review board found that Santangelo had made illegal loans to local officers including himself. He was assessed a $2,000 penalty.

Santangelo told colleagues he was a native of New Jersey and had begun in the Teamsters in 1959 at a New Jersey local. He started out in California as a grocery truck driver before becoming a full-time union staffer, one associate said.


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