When former finance director Robert Samario suddenly and quietly retired last March after an undisclosed four-month investigation ― walking away with his full $120,000 annual pension and a fond farewell from the city administrator ― it raised a lot of questions and a lot of eyebrows.
A sexual harassment lawsuit filed this week may begin to explain the reasoning behind his abrupt departure and how, according to the complaint, it fit within a long-running pattern of illegal behavior. In fact, the lawsuit alleges, Samario’s aggressive overtures and “womanizing” among his staff was a “badly kept secret” at the top levels of Santa Barbara government for more than 13 years.
The lawsuit was filed by Jennifer Tomaszewski, Samario’s deputy finance director, and contains a litany of detailed allegations. Tomaszewski and her attorney, Christina Humphrey, emphasize she was not the only victim, just the latest. “Numerous female employees were interviewed and gave the same accounts about Samario,” the complaint states.
“Some of the known conduct included that Samario’s current wife held a staff level position at the City and that Samario engaged in an extramarital affair with her while he was married to his previous wife,” it declares. “It was a big scandal.”
Tomaszewski also specifically implicated City Administrator Paul Casey for allegedly having full knowledge of Samario’s actions and allowing him to retire ― reportedly without the City Council’s approval ― instead of facing termination, which would have substantially reduced his pension.
Casey is accused of passing over Tomaszewski for the director position because of her involvement in the investigation and instead choosing an outside hire to lead the department with 47 employees and a $6 million budget. The lawsuit claims the investigation cost the city over $100,000 and generated a 150-page internal report that chronicled Samario’s repeated instances of harassment of multiple female employees. At the time of his retirement, Samario was earning $265,000 in salary and benefits.
Casey directed questions for this story to City Attorney Ariel Calonne, who declined to comment.
A sample of Tomaszewski’s 29 separate allegations against Samario follows:
• Almost immediately upon Tomaszewski’s promotion to deputy finance director in August 2018, Samario reportedly began “flirting and inappropriately commenting on [her] appearance, clothing, and fitness, and telling her she was attractive.”
• “Samario relentlessly asked [Tomaszewski] to show him her tattoo,” called her “kiddo” and “sweetie,” and asked her to coffee almost every day, the lawsuit states. If Tomaszewski declined coffee, Samario would ask her if she was mad at him and tell her that she had hurt his feelings.
• “Samario met one of [Tomaszewski]’s daughters and spoke several times about her body and how beautiful she was,” the suit says.
• According to the complaint, Samario would routinely ask Tomaszewski for hugs by inviting her to “Bob’s Hug Club.”
• Samario often called Tomaszewski his “work-wife,” she alleged, and told her to watch a Netflix show about Bill and Melinda Gates, explaining the Gateses’ relationship reminded him of theirs. In the finance department, he was the father, Tomaszewski was the mother, and the staff were their children, Samario would reportedly say.
• “When Samario and his wife were preparing to have a child, he talked to [Tomaszewski] about the sexual positions that help ensure a female baby,” the lawsuit states.
• During conferences, Samario would text Tomaszewski late at night and invite her for “one-on-one” time, the complaint states. Ahead of one particular conference, which was ultimately canceled because of COVID, Tomaszewski considered asking her husband to accompany her so she wouldn’t have to be alone with Samario.
These incidents and others were viewed by Casey and other city officials as simply “Bob being Bob,” the complaint concludes. “The sexual harassment by Samario subjectively offended plaintiff on an almost daily basis, and was sufficiently pervasive and severe as to alter the conditions of her employment and create a hostile, intimidating and/or abusive work environment.”
The case will be heard in Santa Barbara Superior Court. A hearing date has not yet been set.