Lawyer sues Fresno Law Firm for sexual harassment at strip club

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PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE

Fresno Bee staff photo

A lawyer has filed a sexual harassment complaint against her former law firm in Fresno, claiming she and other employees were taken to a strip club by a senior partner, whose alleged behavior at the club l made me feel humiliated.

Attorney, Michelle Ritchie, says in her lawsuit that she was shocked to see Joseph Yrulegui, partner and shareholder of Yrulegui & Roberts of Fresno, making gestures mimicking oral sex to numerous City Lights Nightclub strippers on Clovis Ave.

She also accuses Yrulegui of providing colleagues with dollar bills to tip dancers and paying for lap dances for employees, according to the lawsuit.

“After that, the complainant felt uncomfortable, degraded and humiliated by Joseph Yrulegui. She spoke to other employees about how disgusting and dirty her behavior was. Employees were also embarrassed, humiliated and uncomfortable with the actions of Joseph Yrulegui,” the lawsuit states.

Ritchie alleges several violations, including sexual harassment, gender discrimination, failure to investigate, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is claiming financial damages.

According to the lawsuit, prior to the strip club incident, Ritchie was doing well at Yrulegui & Roberts, a workers’ compensation defense firm. She was hired on February 8, 2021, and within 10 months her salary was increased twice, to the point where she was making nearly $100,000 a year.

At Christmas, she was rewarded with a bonus of $7,500.

However, his relationship with the firm’s senior partners would change drastically after his annual Christmas party on December 10.

The party which included giveaways started at noon and ended around 10 p.m. After the party, Yrulegui asked Ritchie to drive him and another employee to a nearby sports bar to meet other employees who had been to the Christmas party, according to the lawsuit.

They spent several hours at the sports bar drinking alcoholic beverages. Yrulegui then “directed a number of other young female employees and two male employees to take Uber/Lyft rides to City Lights,” the lawsuit says.

During the drive to the club, the lawsuit says, Yrulegui asked “one of the employees if she wanted or enjoyed anal sex.”

Ritchie states in the lawsuit that she had never been to a strip club and had not heard of City Lights. When they arrived, she sat away from the bar and the stage. She also felt compelled to stay as Yrulegui was one of the main partners.

“The plaintiff believed that as an employee she should stay with the group until attorney Joseph Yrulegui left and the work event was over. At the strip club, the plaintiff, the other female employees and an office worker said they were uncomfortable and embarrassed by attorney Joseph Yrulegui’s interactions with the strippers,” the lawsuit states. .

Ritchie alleges in the lawsuit that Yrulegui, because of his employer-employee relationship, caused unwanted unwanted sexual touching by proxy when he directed and demanded that some of the employees present submit to lap dances and engage with the strippers.

Defense attorney responds

Yrulegui’s attorney, Howard Sagaser, said the night at the strip club was completely over the top. He also said it was not a labor-sanctioned event.

“There was nothing mandatory here, everyone made their own choices,” Sagaser said. “It was a voluntary social outing.”

Sagaser added that Ritchie could have left the nightclub if she was offended. “She knew she wasn’t going to Sunday service,” he said.

As for the gestures Yrulegui was accused of doing to the dancers, Sagaser said he suspected Yrulegui of doing what other City Lights patrons might do.

Ritchie also alleges the company threatened to block him from getting another legal job in Fresno. The lawsuit says Ritchie was a top candidate for a job at another company when they called and canceled their interview with her.

Sagaser denied that Yrulegui & Roberts tried to sabotage his search for another job.

Ritchie currently works for another workers compensation company based in San Clemente.

Contacted on Friday, Ritchie declined to comment on the details of the lawsuit other than to say, “The complaint contains nothing but the truth and I have complete faith that we will be able to prove it as this case will continue.”

This story was originally published July 16, 2022 8:03 a.m.

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A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering a variety of topics including education, business and agriculture. It currently covers the courts.

Denise W. Whigham