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Law

Two women sue Seattle nonprofit Casa Latina over sexual harassment allegations

A banner reading Fuera Marcos y Araceli.
Lilly Ana Fowler
/
KNKX file
A sign calling for the firing of Marcos Martinez and Araceli Hernandez hangs outside of Casa Latina in June. Both did leave the organization in August.

Two women have sued the prominent Seattle nonprofit Casa Latina – known for dispatching undocumented workers to day labor jobs – over sexual harassment allegations.

In addition to Casa Latina, the lawsuit also names former employees Gabriel Aspee Cerda and Araceli Hernandez as defendants. It was filed in King County Superior Court.

Aspee, a former driver at the organization, is accused of harassing both women and men at the organization. The lawsuit also alleges Hernandez, a former director, protected Aspee because she was in a relationship with him.

The lawsuit says Aspee harassed employees at the organization over a period of at least six years, from approximately 2015 to 2021. It claims management at the organization was aware of Aspee's behavior but failed to take appropriate steps. The Seattle City Attorney's office has criminally charged Aspee with assault with sexual motivation.

KNKX first reported on the harassment allegations last year. One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Lucina Carrillo, told KNKX that Aspee had both verbally and physically abused her. She said Aspee grabbed her breasts and rear end.

The 50-page complaint goes into greater detail, alleging that even before Casa Latina hired Carrillo as an organizer in 2019, Aspee harassed her when she was working as a domestic worker, asking her to have sex by the bushes, in bathrooms and in offices.

Aspee also asked Carrillo to perform oral sex on him, according to the lawsuit, and he touched her genitals.

The other plaintiff, Ana Torres, a domestic worker and member of Casa Latina, says she witnessed Aspee engage in abusive behavior and became fearful for herself.

In 2020, for example, Torres was seated next to Aspee in a van when he made sexual comments about a female runner they had seen on the way to a cleaning job. According to the lawsuit, Torres became afraid for her safety and worried Aspee would objectify her, too.

Casa Latina workers previously told KNKX, and the lawsuit claims, that Aspee kept others quiet about his behavior by threatening to call immigration authorities.

Casa Latina management allowed “Aspee to exploit the vulnerabilities of largely marginalized and undocumented workers and employees,” the lawsuit reads.

“Not only is his conduct unlawful, but this reprehensible behavior is directly contrary to the core goals and missions of Casa Latina to protect and to provide a safe space for all workers, regardless of immigration status.”

Last year, Carrillo finally reported the sexual harassment allegations related to Aspee to human resources. Carrillo says even after going to leadership, she was forced to work near Aspee.

The lawsuit also claims that members of human resources and former executive director Marcos Martinez asked Carrillo to keep the allegations quiet.

In April 2021, after human resources concluded Aspee had engaged in inappropriate behavior, Casa Latina suspended Aspee for two weeks without pay. The following month, after pushback from workers, Casa Latina fired Aspee.

In August of last year, both Martinez and Hernandez were forced to leave the organization.

In a statement to KNKX, Casa Latina Board President Pilar Pacheco said she and others are in the process of reviewing the lawsuit.

"We respect every person’s right to access the judicial system. We are reviewing with legal counsel, and we will be deciding next steps," Pacheco said.

Carrillo and Torres are both seeking damages.

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