Downtown Streets Team execs accused of sexual harassment, creating drinking culture | January 24, 2020 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 24, 2020

Downtown Streets Team execs accused of sexual harassment, creating drinking culture

Former employees say the conditions at nonprofit headquarters in San Jose constituted a hostile work environment

by Sue Dremann and Gennady Sheyner

One of Palo Alto's most visible nonprofit organizations, the Downtown Streets Team, is embroiled in a scandal in which its top executives have been accused of sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment and encouraging a drinking culture.

This story contains 2820 words.

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Staff Writers Sue Dremann and Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at [email protected] and [email protected]

Comments

38 people like this
Posted by Remain vigilent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2020 at 6:42 pm

I urge all relevant parties in Palo Alto to remain vigilant and hold DTST accountable.
By the end of this article, one is left with an uneasy feeling rather than full reassurance.
It doesn’t help that Owen Bird’s attitude is one of - just move on folks, there is nothing to see, even though settlements were made on real complaints.
I for one find this disturbing.


Posted by Brett
a resident of Downtown North

on Jan 22, 2020 at 7:32 pm

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29 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2020 at 9:28 pm

I wonder how much of that 2018 budget of $6,200,000 actually ended up in the hands of the folks that are actually doing the street cleaning?
I bet it is not a lot. Just another slimy "Non Profit" created in Palo Alto.


20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 22, 2020 at 10:01 pm

Given the troubled history and detailed complaints here, it's a shame to see Owen Byrd be so dismissive of the complaints while still having "full confidence" in the accused. Maybe the cities wondering what happened should meet with the former and present employees making the complaints as well as the board to get the full picture.

It's not surprising the board's investigators found "no problems" with the management given the narrow strictures on which complaints over certain dates it could investigate and raise questions about whether they really wanted to make a sincere effort.

"Nothing was done. The complaints did not change the working environment. Because the persons engaging in the conduct were the CEO and the CEO's son, complaining about their conduct would have been futile," Appeals Board Panel Members Robert Dresser and Ellen Corbett wrote.

Byrd said the lawyer the board had hired failed to show up at the appeals hearing, which left Eileen Richardson and Strydom to testify without legal representation. The board decided not to take the case to Superior Court because of the legal cost and instead paid the unemployment claim, he said."

I'm confused by the events described in the 2 above paragraphs and why the board's no-show lawyers should have forestalled the case.


16 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2020 at 11:43 am

"Owen Byrd be so dismissive .."
Owen Byrd is a real estate lawyer and a developer.

I think these facts are relevant in assessing what he says.


7 people like this
Posted by Pied Piper
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2020 at 11:51 am

Doesn't sound like the Owen Byrd I knew and used to respect.
Sad.


16 people like this
Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 23, 2020 at 12:50 pm

Nepotism is not a good thing. Why would there be alcohol in this environment assuming that this really happened. The clients are let down and staff working in this unprofessional atmosphere. Everybody is let down.


7 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2020 at 1:49 pm

"assuming that this really happened."
You doubt the drinking and sexual harassment reported by
many people?

Perhaps you have no experience with alcoholics and the hell they put their family and co-workers through. You can read about it if you are not familiar with it.


Posted by Eileen's Salaries
a resident of Downtown North

on Jan 23, 2020 at 1:54 pm

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7 people like this
Posted by Chuck Jagoda
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 23, 2020 at 3:11 pm

WOW! What a big deal about lil ole Downtown Streets Team! Are there ever articles this long and detailed about the journeys of clients through their time in DST?

I know and love both Eileen and Zia. They both have been and are very generous and helpful-- sometimes way beyond the job description. DST has and does help many people get up out of homelessness. Zia is an excellent case manager. Eileen gives and gives and gives.

I've seen many get housing, jobs, self regard, reconnected with family.

I'm not saying partying and behavior mistakes didn't occur: I don't know of those things happening but office parties DO happen in non profits and for profits.

To the person who claimed "just another slimy non profit," I have to say that there ARE slimy (and/or) incompetent, misguided people in non profits. DST is far beyond the others in quality of service and effectiveness.

It's true one has to carefully nurture sobriety. If that standard wasn't lived up to in all circumstances, let's not forget about the possibility of learning and redemption. Even sober people have slips. The idea is to cut down on those failures, not condemn the person who makes them.

I would add that what was sexually, socially, politely, sensitively appropriate in 2017 is a far cry from what is appropriate now.

Also, did the offended make any requests or observations when they were offended? Just asking.

Sometimes, in order to justify doing nothing, people are very ready to tear down those who make an effort and often a difference.

If someone wants to ban or defund DST, please also suggest what you would (or already) support to do the job it's been doing so well for so long.


6 people like this
Posted by Concerned citizen
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 23, 2020 at 3:35 pm

Hi! I want to point out it’s less of a “scandal” and more of what seems like an ex-employee going on a rampage. It’s not a scandal outside of the 3 articles written in conjunction with the ex-employee.

I’m not saying that all of what’s written is false. I’m sure much of it is true, but definitely not to the degree of horror that it is poetically portrayed in these articles. I assure you every single startup in the early days has had some questionable work events. I think that’s apart of a company’s growing pains.... to slander someone for especially a nonprofit that as a whole is doing wonders for our community seems like a low blow.

I have no idea but I imagine 5+ years later they organization has matured and stabilized beyond the “bootstrap” stage.

I for one think it sucks any employee would have to endure anything that makes them uncomfortable but as long as it gets taken care of and the organization is attempting to remedy it, then that’s more than any massive corporation I’ve ever worked for.

For context l, I worked for a mass retail chain and when my manager stole my commission and racially discriminated against our customers, and I brought this up to HR, nothing was done. On the flip side it seems downtown streets team is much more sensitive (over time) as a company culture and does more for the community.

Doesn’t seem right to try and destroy something that’s helping. We all make mistakes including businesses but let’s empower each other to do better and be better rather than trying to destroy something.


10 people like this
Posted by Team Member in question
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2020 at 4:21 pm

I was born and raised in Palo Alto and am the Team Member mentioned above. No one reached out to me for comment and I find the above deplorable and no 1 is responsible for my sobriety but me!!! BH


12 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 23, 2020 at 5:16 pm

Team Member in question:

I did make attempts to reach out to you on Facebook where I left messages. I also sought to find you by phone but I was unsuccessful. If you would like to talk to me, please contact me at [email protected]

The story doesn’t question your sobriety nor does it give anyone else credit for it. I would like to talk to you about the incident in question.


12 people like this
Posted by Many questions
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2020 at 5:39 pm

Chuck Jagoda,

You write:
“I would add that what was sexually, socially, politely, sensitively appropriate in 2017 is a far cry from what is appropriate now.”

Uh — no. This behavior is NEVER acceptable and attitudes about it didn’t just change in the last three years. Try being in the position women are in and you would see how unacceptable this behavior is regardless. What’s changed is the willingness to put up with this treatment.

Three other points:
1. We’re not talking about low-level employees here. We’re talking about the organization’s executives. Their behavior, if true, shows an appalling lack of judgment to say the least.

2. This behavior didn’t just occur as “growing pains” of a young organization. The article says DTS formed in 2005. The behavior described purportedly went on until 2019. That’s 14 years. Even if one believes the board’s claims that it was all before 2016 that’s still 10 to 11 years. Growing pains of a young organization? Nope.

3. Why would DTS have to fold because of this? No one has suggested they want that to happen. DTS is a great program. If the Richardsons were to resign would no one else be able to do their jobs?


23 people like this
Posted by Brett
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2020 at 7:35 pm

Interesting that CEO Eileen Richardson's claim to fame of silicon valley success was that of running Napster.

Imagine if a John decided that the movies provided by the cable/dish companies, were just too damn expensive. So John decides to buy the movies for himself one time and then uploads them to his own server and then opens his server to the world to watch the movies from his server free of charge. He's not stealing, he's sharing the movies he purchased, peer-to-peer sharing. That is essentially what Napster did under the leadership of Eileen Richardson.

"In March 2001, Napster settled both suits, after being shut down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a separate lawsuit from several major record labels"
Web Link

Before Napster Eileen Richardson cites her success as a venture capitalist.
Really? A successful VC is someone who is investing and earning 7 figures minimum. No successful VC is going to start up a homeless street sweeping program and take a salary of $45,000 a year to start. According to the Silicon Valley Article Richardson is now making $200,000 a year.



18 people like this
Posted by Will Stop Donating
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 23, 2020 at 8:13 pm

I am a big fan of the work Downtown Streets does and like the program, but I'm going to stop donating as long as the Richardsons remain in a leadership role there.


16 people like this
Posted by Brett
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2020 at 8:33 pm

@ Sue Dremman,

is there any follow up to your story on the woman who was suffering a seizure due to a brain tumor but denied medical treatment by Palo Chief Jonsen's officers Clausen and Sgt. Moore because they wrongly assumed the woman was faking her symptoms as psychotic episode?
Web Link

Mayor Filseth was wanting to know why Sgt. Moore's videos and GPS data were missing, has City Manager Shikada or City or Attorney Stump or Chief Jonsen provided and answer as to why Moore's videos are not accounted for?
Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2020 at 9:16 pm

I did not realize Eileen Richardson was involved with Napster. This fact, pretty much proves that she had a pattern of running slimy businesses.


16 people like this
Posted by Mayfield Magic
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 24, 2020 at 12:43 am

$200,000 a year for smiling, drinking on the job, part time, under the pretense of taking care of business~ laughing all the way to the bank I would say....almost unbelievable ... I think someone else would do a better job and even take a little cut in pay. That should happen, sounds like rehab is in the future for a few people....Flaunting and having no respect for those they know to be trying to stay sober is showing how disrespectful SOME people get...


25 people like this
Posted by Enough Is Enough
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 24, 2020 at 10:08 am

> The accusations of misconduct extend to CEO Eileen Richardson who founded the organization in Palo Alto in 2005, and her son, Chris Richardson, the chief program officer.

^^^Strike One...nepotism

>> Two employees who worked directly with clients also claim they witnessed Eileen Richardson drinking in front of a client who was a recovering alcoholic.

^^^ Strike Two...hypocrisy & poor judgment

>>> Spencer said that there were no further incidents involving a client as far as she knew. But multiple employees said alcohol was "ever-present" in the San Jose headquarters, where people could choose to drink and often did in the afternoon.

^^^ Strike Three...OSHA workplace violation?

Just fire them both.



18 people like this
Posted by eyeswideopen
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 24, 2020 at 11:31 am

This is very, very sad. I feel duped, having given monetary support to DTS for years and encouraging others to do so. I was unaware of the nepotism and certainly not aware of sexual harassment and the drinking culture this article outlines. All allegations should be taken seriously.


9 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2020 at 1:03 pm

I wonder how many tax dollars funded these wild, alcohol-fueled parties. Just keep raising my taxes CA.


20 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2020 at 2:36 pm

Startling that an organization devoted to rehabilitating the chronically homeless uses alcoholic beverages as a major part of employee teambuilding. If there was ever an organization that needed to ban alcohol from its functions, this has to be it. I suggest switching to coffee from now on.


8 people like this
Posted by Dennis Upton
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 24, 2020 at 4:11 pm

I know Chris Richardson to be a very fine man, and while the allegations against him may be true, Zia MacWilliams has in legal terminology, "unclean hands" [Portion removed.]

Because of what was going on at the office parties of our top management, an organization which has delivered myself from homelessness through recovery from alcoholism and grave mental and emotional illnesses is being egregiously harmed. Please continue to contribute generously to Downtown Streets Team. They've always been there for me these last 10 years. They are also helping to pay my rent in my brand new federally subsidized apartment in Sunnyvale. I sweep the gutters, alleys, parking lots, and parking garages of downtown Palo Alto. I love my work, take great pride in it, and would never want to work anywhere else. Once again please keep giving generously, and please help the homeless, such as myself remain working and housed.


11 people like this
Posted by Dennis Upton
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 24, 2020 at 5:26 pm

Without excusing or accepting, the behavior of Eileen Richardson and Chris Richardson, and what went on at their office parties, please be mindful, that by discontinuing one's contributions to Downtown Streets Team on is not just harming Eileen and Chris, but myself, and hundreds of other homeless or formerly homeless individuals, as well as downtown Palo Alto itself. Please, may I strongly ask you to continue contributing to Downtown Streets Team generously, for whom I have volunteered for 10 years presently. I sweep the gutters, alleys, parking lots, and parking garages in downtown Palo Alto, and take great pride in my work. DST helps pay for my rent and my food, and I would be irrevocably lost without the Team here, who I consider to be my true family. Keep us working, keep us housed, and help us keep downtown Palo Alto beautiful!


5 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 24, 2020 at 9:03 pm

Hi Brett,

Thanks for asking about follow-up on the 911 story. There will be additional reporting regarding this story. We have been working on trying to get more information since the last article.

Sue


3 people like this
Posted by Carla
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jan 25, 2020 at 8:58 am

This story reminds me of the past Ravenswood school district superintendent Maria Hernandez-Goff. [Portion removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Dennis Upton
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 25, 2020 at 5:49 pm

If anyone thinks my comments on Chris Richardson flippant or insouciant, I can assure you, that was not my intention. All I am asking is for people that do not know the side of the story of Chris to please continue to donate generously to Downtown Streets Team. I can also empathize with Zia MacWilliams suffering panic attacks, as I suffered quite a few being the victim of sexual harassment in the men's locker room of The Palo Alto Family YMCA. The City of Palo Alto is in receipt of that lawsuit, Which was dismissed or "sustained by demurrer"


15 people like this
Posted by Too high salary
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 25, 2020 at 6:40 pm

The non profit should not be paying $200k salaries to any of their employees


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 25, 2020 at 8:32 pm

$200K is actually a pittance given what Silicon Valley Leadership Group and ABAG pay.


7 people like this
Posted by Jeanne
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 25, 2020 at 8:37 pm

I found your article on the Downtown Streets Team extremely disturbing for a news outlet that I have long respected for it’s fair and accurate portrayal of issues in our local communities. I was therefore surprised to read this extremely one-sided account in the Weekly, from a disgruntled former employee who, contrary to her account, apparently did not file any type of formal complaint nor come forward while she was employed there.
I think it is also important to keep in mind that the [portion removed] investigation referred to in the article found most of the allegations to be either unsubstantiated or certainly exaggerated, based on numerous interviews with the other employees working during the time period in question.
As a longtime supporter and former Board member of DST since it’s inception, I have watched this organization, with the dedication of Eileen and Chris Richardson and so many other employees, successfully address the issues of the unhoused population of our Bay Area cities, changing and even saving the lives of so many formerly homeless men and women, and receiving countless awards and recognition for their impressive achievements.
In the face of this overwhelming success and dedication, do we really want to support the public airing of allegations by a very few to sabotage the ongoing work of such a worthwhile group dedicated to solving the number one issue for our cities today? Rather, let’s all focus on the overwhelming successes for groups like DST. The airing of private issues like this in such a public manner only serves to hurt the people who need our help, and whom DST routinely return back to productive lives in society.





17 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 26, 2020 at 12:35 pm

@Jeanne - are you kidding? "do we really want to support the public airing of allegations by a very few to sabotage the ongoing work of such a worthwhile group dedicated to solving the number one issue for our cities today?"

Yes, we do. It's completely inappropriate behavior for people working w people dealing w addiction and mental health issues. Check this out below. 6 people. Corroborated.

The Weekly interviewed six people who worked for Downtown Streets Team between 2008 and 2019. Some of the employees spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation or harm to their current or future employment. Specific details of many alleged instances could not be confirmed — employees spoke of instances that took place privately — but on the whole, the accusations pointed to disturbing patterns of behavior. The Weekly is publishing details of those incidents corroborated through documentation and multiple witnesses.


8 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 26, 2020 at 12:37 pm

Are there any tax dollars involved? These folks need to go if so.


13 people like this
Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2020 at 2:12 pm

So the clients will get hurt as long as the Richardsons remain in their positions. They should resign immediately. Otherwise many will stop donating to this good cause to force these unprofessional duo out.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dennis Upton
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 28, 2020 at 2:25 pm

Thank you, Jeanne for articulating so well, what I could not have, as a Downtown Streets Team Member for 10 years now. Eileen and Chris regardless of their drinking culture, and the spurious allegations against them, should not have to resign as a condition for individuals, who believe otherwise, to continue contributing, Zia Macwilliams would also have liked to file a lawsuit against DST, yet couldn't or wouldn't.


2 people like this
Posted by Something to ponder...
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2020 at 5:14 am

Just a few thoughts/questions....

1. If the situations in question were so detrimental to the accusers mental health and well being why wait 4-6 years to come forward? If complaints about the executives were futile as described and/or the fear of retaliation was present why not take the issues to the Labor Board to investigate?

2. To those calling for the Richardson's resignation with the threat of pulling donations if the demands are not followed thru on.... If this exact scenario occurred at a company such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon; would you call for the resignation of their executives or threaten to not continue to use/purchase their products and services?

3. If this same scenario occurred in an office if public service such as a police department, fire department would you pull your donations if their leaders didn't resign?

4. And for all those so appalled by the accusations and are threatening to stop donating, who were admittedly supporters of DST prior to this being brought to the attention of the media.... Let's be real for a moment, the sad truth is that in today's world these types of scenarios happen more often than one would care to even try to fathom, and they happen in some of the top companies around the world. Yet you are never made aware of them. So you continue to purchase their products or donate to their causes completely unaware of the environment your hard earned money is funding. So other than the negative media attention this start has garnered what makes the Richardson's any less capable of running an effective, award winning, public benefiting, life improving program like they've always run? What makes them any different than the CEO, or store manager, or shift leader from that favorite store you shop at, that were accused of the same exact thing the Richardson's are accused of, that are still in the same exact positions they were before??


Our world is filled with disrespect, inequality, hate, prejudice, and ignorance and it's situations like these, that should be handled in a LEGAL level NOT public way that fuels and fans the fires for those evils to flourish


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2020 at 9:31 am

Posted by Something to ponder..., a resident of another community

>> Just a few thoughts/questions....


>> 2. To those calling for the Richardson's resignation with the threat of pulling donations if the demands are not followed thru on.... If this exact scenario occurred at a company such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon; would you call for the resignation of their executives or threaten to not continue to use/purchase their products and services?

You mean, like -Uber- ?

Web Link

As a matter of fact, yes. Downtown Streets Team was sounding a lot like Uber, but, in its way, worse. Because the attempt at a crazy-fun culture is -so- inappropriate in this case, given the mission.


Like this comment
Posted by Still a DST strong supporter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2020 at 12:24 pm

Good to hear a well thought out and objective response by "Something to Ponder" above. Let's not forget that just because people make accusations does not mean they are automatically all accurate or without personal motives. From what I have read here people are ASSUMING that because Ms. MacWilliams said so, the allegations are all factual... when as I understand it from the results of the lengthy outside investigation which were made public, this is not necessarily the case. If all the allegations were factual wouldn't they have been borne out by the myriad of interviews done with other staff who attended these gatherings...and who were all able to respond anonymously if they so desired?

This organization, and Ms Richardson herself, have won countless awards and specifically leadership awards from the various communities/organizations both local and statewide that work with and are familiar with, all aspects of the work they do and their accomplishments....clearly with the Richardson's at the helm. I am personally quite shocked at the people declaring, based on this article alone, that they will no longer support DST. The real losers here are the hundreds of men and women who are now off the streets and whose lives have been changed forever by the efforts of the organization. I say keep up the good work!

Let's not be so quick to sit in judgement...there are always two sides to every story...and this one certainly is no exception!


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2020 at 3:58 pm

Posted by Still a DST strong supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Let's not be so quick to sit in judgement...there are always two sides to every story...and this one certainly is no exception!

"There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently." -- Robert Evans

Can we agree that, given the DST mission, alcohol-fueled celebrations are a really bad idea? If they want to have an after-work coffee party, I will be the first to send in a Peet's gift card.


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