Update 12/23: Following the publication of this article, Thom Davis reached out to Below the Line to contend that he was not “forced” to step down, as the original headline of this article suggested, but rather, he had long planned to step down on Dec. 31 as part of his “retirement plan.” The headline has been amended.
Thom Davis is stepping down as the longtime business manager of IATSE Grips Local 80, this after being accused of covering up “lewd sexual misconduct” that went on for “months” inside the group’s Burbank offices.
The salacious story surfaced after Davis was named as a defendant in a wrongful-termination lawsuit filed last month by Local 80’s former assistant business representative Michael Mendez. Mendez claims he was fired this past February in retaliation for complaining about the sexual harassment he allegedly witnessed between Tommy Valentin, the local’s secretary-treasurer, and a female employee, cited throughout the lawsuit as Jane Doe. Valentin was her supervisor, and their sexual relationship was entirely consensual, though apparently flaunted around the office.
Davis and Valentin are named as defendants in the lawsuit along with Local 80, whose president Brady Majors, was recently dismissed as a defendant after Mendez amended his initial complaint. Reached by Below the Line on Tuesday, Davis offered no comment beyond denying “a good portion” of the suit.
Deadline broke the news, adding that Davis’ exit is particularly notable given that he is one of Hollywood’s longest-serving union leaders, having held his position at Local 80 since 1998. Davis would’ve been up for re-election for another three-year term next March, along with the rest of the Local 80 leadership team. Instead, he’ll exit his post on Dec. 31, though he’ll continue to serve as IATSE’s 2nd vice president of the International union.
Davis has been an IATSE member since 1977, and seven years later, he joined the executive board of Local 80, which represents roughly 3,900 grips, first-aid workers, and craft service personnel. Additionally, Davis chairs the California Film Commission and the board of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and he has also served as a trustee of the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans for nearly 20 years.
Deadline noted that Davis had become “increasingly unpopular” among members of Local 80 — 70 percent of whom voted against the ratification of IATSE’s new film and TV contract even though Davis was a “strong proponent” of the deal. Local 80 was one of 13 West Coast IATSE locals to reject the contract.
According to Mendez’s lawsuit, he saw Valentin having sex with Jane Doe, one of his direct reports, in the office kitchen back in June 2020, leaving him “completely upset, entirely offended and utterly nauseated over what he witnessed.” This suit further alleges that “this was not an isolated incident, but rather repeated behavior in the office during work hours,” and goes on to list several sordid examples. When Mendez complained to Davis, he didn’t want to hear anything of it, and even when he personally observed the misbehavior, he ignored it.
Mendez estimates that Valentin and Jane Doe missed a combined 12-15 hours of work each week (that would be 90 minutes per day, per employee) and that their sexual relationship had carried on in full view of the office for “nearly 80 days.” Mendez wrote and hand-delivered a letter to Davis explaining how the lewd sexual misconduct was adversely affecting his work environment, which had become intolerable.” The letter came two months after Mendez first brought the situation to Davis’ attention, though he did nothing about it even though the behavior violated the standard of conduct outlined in Local 80’s employee handbook.
Mendez claims that Davis demanded proof of the violations and considered taking disciplinary actions against Mendez for coming forward. Mendez says the sexual misconduct made him “uncomfortable” and he was now in fear of losing his job for effectively blowing the whistle on wrongdoing. Mendez then alleges that rather than address his “legitimate concerns,” Davis retaliated against him and
“threatened him with termination for observing and monitoring [his] co-workers.” Mendez further claims that Davis added a disciplinary memo to his file at work following a dispute over Mendez’s use of a handicapped parking spot in the local’s lot, to which he is legally entitled.
“These acts were blatantly retaliatory and attempts to find grounds to intimidate and/or terminate Plaintiff and conceal the misconduct occurring at Local 80,” reads the lawsuit.
In July 2020, Local 80 hired an outside firm – Public Interest Investigations – to investigate Mendez’s allegations. Mendez was interviewed, during which time he “expressed his concern about the integrity and honesty of the investigation,” and by February 2021, Mendez was notified of his termination while he was “out on sick leave with COVID-19. Since then, he claims, “Local 80 has engaged in a pattern of concealing the workplace complaints and misconduct that transpired.”
Valentin has argued that even if Mendez’s allegations are true, there is no legal basis for a lawsuit, as Mendez wasn’t harassed on the basis of his sex, and since the sexual acts he alleges were consensual, the fact he was ‘nauseated’ or ‘offended’ are subjective feelings and not sufficient to state a claim for harassment, doubly so because the office kitchen is not considered Mendez’s immediate work environment.
So yeah… this is quite the case! The sexual harassment thing is tricky, as two consenting adults should be allowed to do as they please, though it’s not hard to see how a manager sleeping with an employee is inherently problematic. And obviously, if two co-workers are going to fool around, they shouldn’t be doing it in the office, whether in front of everyone or in a communal kitchen where anyone could walk in at any moment. I’ve worked in a lot of newsrooms and I’ve never seen co-workers going at it in the buff, so if that in fact happened here, as alleged, I can understand how uncomfortable Mendez was and how he may have felt like the office had become a hostile workplace. I can also see why Davis wouldn’t want to get involved in a torrid office romance, but if, as alleged, it was affecting other employees, then he owed it to them to take steps to end it and try to protect them.
Regardless of how Davis did or didn’t deal with Valentin and Jane Doe, Mendez shouldn’t have been fired for complaining about their dalliance, if that is, in fact, why he was terminated. Mendez does, however, remain an elected member of Local 80’s executive board. The next hearing in this case is scheduled for January 25, so stay tuned.
[Email Jeff Sneider at [email protected]]