MARTINEZ — A Contra Costa County nonprofit organization that provides care to abused and neglected foster children is being sued for negligence and sexual harassment by an employee and a former client.

The complaint was filed Sept. 25 in Contra County Superior Court against Youth Homes, its longtime executive director Stuart McCullough and a former counselor and current prison inmate Robert Leon Callen.

It asks for unspecified monetary damages for co-plaintiffs Michelle Hirsch, of Brentwood, and Mereiah Jackson, 18, based on allegations of sexual assault, sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision and retention of employees.

"We feel like everything we have alleged will be proven at trial," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Arthur Navarette.

Court records show that Callen was sentenced in 2006 to more than six years in prison for unlawful sex with a minor, sexual penetration of a minor, two counts of molestation and four counts of distributing marijuana to minors. Some of the charges relate to Jackson, who says in the complaint that she was 14 years old when Callen first tried to have sex with her and gave her alcohol and marijuana.

Attorneys for Youth Homes and McCullough say the allegations against their clients are false and describe Hirsch as a disgruntled employee. They do not represent Callen, who was fired by Youth Homes and prosecuted after his criminal activity came to light.


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"He's in jail and rightfully so," said Youth Homes attorney Marc Jacuzzi. "Youth Homes believed they handled that situation properly. They assisted Ms. Jackson all along the (court) process."

Hirsch, who has worked for Youth Homes since 2007, alleges she was sexually harassed, both verbally and physically, by McCullough, her manager, from approximately March 2008 through February 2009. Jackson says she was a minor living at Youth Homes' Lafayette group home when McCullough made sexually explicit comments to her.

The women allege that Youth Homes administrators either knew about the harassment and did nothing to stop it or didn't know when they should have. They say they have suffered severe emotional stress and medical problems as a result of the conduct against them.

"It's quite troubling that this lawsuit has been filed and particularly because it's really baseless," McCullough's attorney, Susan Zeme, said. "Also, I think Ms. Hirsch manipulated Ms. Jackson into coming along on this ride."

A spokesman for the Contra Costa County Department of Employment and Human Services said Youth Homes provides high-quality care to foster children it places with the organization.

"This is a fantastic organization that provides a wonderful service to foster children and relies on community support," Jacuzzi said. "For a lot of kids, it's the last stop alternative to living on the streets.

"(McCullough) has been with the organization for years and has really done a superb job over there," he said. "The allegations are false, and the Youth Homes is prepared to defend itself."