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Lawsuit Filed Against Newsom Appointed CAL OES Deputy Director

Updated: May 23


January 16, 2024


Cal OES Dep. Director Ryan Buras’ retaliation resulted in delayed state support to wildfire victims

SACRAMENTO – Today, a lawsuit was filed against the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and its Deputy Director, Ryan Buras, alleging sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation among other claims. The lawsuit states that Buras, a Newsom appointee, has faced allegations of sexual harassment from multiple women. The accusations center around conduct that occurred on the heels of the#MeToo movement during a period in which Mr. Buras was married to former Labor Secretary Natalie Palugyai. The alleged harassment and subsequent retaliation against at least one of those women resulted in delays for disaster survivors.

“This administration swept a predator’s campaign of sexual and psychological abuseunder the rug,” said Kendra Bowyer, the victim in the case and a formerSenior Emergency Services Coordinator at Cal OES. “A workplace that centersaround supporting disaster victims became a terrifying and dysfunctional disasterzone because they enabled his disgusting behavior.”

According to court records, Kendra Bowyer was dispatched to help victims of California’s worst disasters during the pandemic, but the biggest danger she faced was her boss, the Deputy Director of Cal OES, Ryan Buras. Bowyer began working at CalOES in 2018. Soon thereafter, Steven Larson, a manager at Cal OES, reported Buras’ sexual harassment to agency leadership after multiple women made complaints to him in 2019. Cal OES, however, failed to conduct a full investigation and instead retaliated against Mr. Larson, terminating his employment. Larson subsequently filed a lawsuit against Cal OES and Ryan Buras (see Larson v. Cal OES and Ryan Buras, 34-2020-00290271, pending in Sacramento Superior Court) which laid out the sexual harassment Buras perpetrated against other employees and detailed how the employees reporting his harassment were terminated. Cal OES’ failure to perform an adequate investigation resulted in Buras remaining in a position of power, therefore enabling his aggressive sexual harassment of Kendra Bowyer.

Per the complaint, over the course of approximately one year, Buras committed egregious acts of harassment, such as crawling into bed with Bowyer when she was sleeping, touching her nonconsensually, attempting to get her alone in hotel rooms, grabbing her hand in public, calling and texting her nearly every night and more.

“Ryan Buras created a toxic workplace, and when his victim declined his sexual advances he retaliated,” said Maria Bourn, Bowyer’s attorney. “The egregious harassment put her in extreme duress, and his retaliation was so callous it resulted in delayed aid to wildfire victims. Had Cal OES acted when it was warned Buras was a predator Kendra would not have been sexually harassed. This is unacceptable for an organization to fail to act when it is also running the State’s Sexual Assault Program. Major change needs to occur at Cal OES to prevent this from ever happening again.”

Buras’ words to Bowyer explicitly confirmed his intentions. On a work trip, Buras told Bowyer that “this is where marriages go to die,” and referenced his “soon-to-be ex-wife.”He made comments that coworkers thought “we are sleeping together,” and criticized her appearance, saying Bowyer, “needs to start dressing more like a woman.” On multiple occasions, Buras allegedly attempted to lure Bowyer into his hotel room, asking her to “look at this big bed,” and made efforts to stay in her room. He sent her texts saying, “I wish I had someone like you,” and told her she’s “caring and supportive” and“so beautiful.” Ms. Bowyer felt enormous pressure to respond to Buras’ after-hour messages and calls since he told her that staff who do not are on his “Dead to Me List.”Buras even told her he had even planned a “surprise Christmas trip” for the two of them.

“Like many victims of sexual harassment, Kendra was fearful that coming forward would hurt her career,” said Tanya Gomerman, the victims’ attorney. “As a result she experienced an extraordinary level of harassment that was sustained over a long period of time. When she finally came forward her worst fears were realized, and the retaliation she experienced made it impossible for her to serve the people of California. Afterwards, Cal OES took actions to keep her claims secret and out of the public’s eye.”

When Ms. Bowyer decided to tell Buras his advances were inappropriate; he retaliated, making it impossible for her to contact him in accordance with her duties to perform her job. Aids to Buras accused Bowyer of falsifying her timesheets, breaking office rules, or failing to do her job. Buras also restricted her access to resources and assistance, and raised his voice at her beyond professional boundaries.

Buras’ behavior ultimately slowed Cal OES’ ability to efficiently deliver much needed relief to disaster victims and exacerbated the overwhelming anxiety and depression inflicted upon Ms. Bowyer. The resulting impacts to fire victims were widespread, with many unable to receive services they were entitled to which left their living conditions unsafe. The harms even created a danger for children at a school.

Despite multiple complaints lodged against him, Cal OES failed to take adequate action to protect female employees. In the aftermath of rejecting Buras’ advances, Ms. Bowyer went on medical leave and was unable to return to work. Cal OES pushed her case through a confidential system that deprived the public of knowing about Buras’ conduct. The absence of a proper investigation helps insulate those protecting Buras and has enabled him to continue in his role as Deputy Director of Cal OES.

Gomerman, Bourn & Associates have sought information to understand the depths of Bruras’ sexual harassment at Cal OES during his tenure at FEMA. Regrettably, Cal OES and FEMA have stonewalled declining to provide information on reports of harassment. If you have witnessed, experienced, or reported sexual harassment at Cal OES or FEMA, please contact Gomerman|Bourn and Associates, as the extent of harassment that occurred remains under investigation.

Gomerman|Bourn and Associates specializes in employment law and personal injury cases. Since opening its doors in 2012, they have recovered well over $50 million for their clients. To learn more about Gomerman|Bourn and Associates,

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