WARNING: This article contains direct quotes of the sexual harassment these women allegedly faced while working at Manzanita Services. This language could be disturbing to many. We have chosen to share the lewd and explicit language so the public could understand wholly and fully the nature of the abuse these three women claim they experienced from Tony Marsh.
Tony Marsh, a well-known homeless advocate in the Ukiah Valley, stands at the center of three civil lawsuits filed by former female colleagues who allege he sexually assaulted them when he was their supervisor at Manzanita Service Incorporated. Their lawsuits further claim that when they reported the abuse to their supervisors, they were fired out of retaliation.
Manzanita Services Incorporated later merged with Tapestry Family Services Incorporated, another non-profit organization. Both are private contractors that the County of Mendocino pays to provide services to many of the county’s vulnerable populations.
Three separate civil lawsuits filed by three former employees of Manzanita Services (referred to throughout this piece as N.T., M.B., and B.F.) allege between 2021 and 2022, Tony Marsh, the man charged with directly supervising and training the three employees, engaged in sexual harassment—bombarding them with explicit propositions and come-ons escalating to inappropriate physical contacts such as touching their buttocks, inner thighs, arms, and shoulders.
The behavior allegedly escalated to sexual battery when Marsh followed N.T. into their shared work bathroom and placed his hand “between [her] legs on [her] vagina and pulled his hand back tracing his fingers along [her] vagina, inner legs, and butt.
In the case of M.B., Marsh allegedly “grabbed [her] butt like it was a piece of meat” and despite her repeated pleas for him to stop, he continued to grope her.
B.F.’s alleged treatment by Marsh included grabbing her butt, sexual groping, and at one point telling the married woman “let me just get that pussy, I would eat it and make you want to leave your husband.”
All three plaintiffs claim that after reporting Marsh’s purported behavior to their bosses, they were met with hostility and retaliation by the organization with administrators questioning their work practices instead of offering consolation. Within weeks of reporting the harassment, all three plaintiffs were fired on the same day which they allege was an act of discrimination and retaliation.
Now, armed with a team of Sacramento attorneys, the three former employees have each filed an unlimited civil lawsuit against Tony Marsh, Manzanita Services, and Tapestry Family Services demanding a jury trial where their claims of abuse and antagonistic workplace will be put to the test.
Who is Tony Marsh?
At the center of the lawsuit is the alleged sexual battery and harassment committed by Tony Marsh. Marsh has lived in the Ukiah area since his teenage years and found himself at the wrong end of the law in his twenties and into his thirties. His forte was burglarizing commercial businesses and storage units. He served time in state prison for his crimes. Sometime after 2000, he changed course and became well-known in the community for his homeless outreach becoming a part of Mendocino County’s homeless services apparatus.
In his youth, Marsh was involved with religious organizations–even traveling to Mexico as part of missionary outreach. In a brief Ukiah Daily Journal article from March 22, 1991, entitled “Foursquare youth off to Mexico” 15-year-old Marsh appeared, along with four other youth, traveling to Mexico where they would meet other missionaries to perform skits and puppet shows in the parks of Mexicali.
On September 6, 2000, the Ukiah Daily Journal published a weighty AP newswire feature piece made hyper-local by Laura Clark entitled “America’s Teenagers on Guns” exploring young people’s perspectives on gun ownership. Clark interviewed several Ukiah locals including then 24-years-old Tony Marsh. Marsh told the reporter he had been exposed to “all kinds of weapons – from the smallest pistol to large-caliber machine guns.” Marsh first shot a gun at six-year-old but advocated for a required safety course for gun ownership for even the most experienced.
Marsh went on to advocate that everyone should own a gun: “If everyone had a gun, everybody would be cautious about committing an illegal act.” He told the reporter, “I think Adolph Hitler was a psychotic man, but some of his ideas were sound. I’m referring to his quote: ‘This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future.’”
Three years after he admired one of Hitler’s ideals, police popped Marsh for burglary. On September 6, 2003, the Ukiah Daily Journal published an article entitled “Suspected burglar arrested”. Then 27-year-old Tony Lee Marsh was arrested at his Clara Street Apartment where police located multiple stolen items from a “recent rash of burglaries” including tools, cellphones, checks, money, laptops, and wine. Ukiah Police had yet to identify the owners of the stolen items and asked potential victims to come forward.
Approximately three months later on December 10, 2003, a District Attorney report published in the Ukiah Daily Journal stated that Marsh committed at least ten commercial burglaries in Ukiah during March and August of that year. As a result, Marsh was sentenced to five years and eight months in state prison for “commercial burglary” and possession of the stolen property.
The report provided details of how Marsh carried out the crimes. He would gain entry to the businesses by “smashing windows with bricks, prying locks, or prying the doors.” On top of burglarizing the businesses, Marsh reportedly “left the businesses a mess”. During one of the burglaries, Marsh left a road flare near an open and leaking gas line which suggested to prosecutors he “may have intended to burn down the building as well.”
He would serve time, how much we could not determine. Despite his stint behind bars, Marsh would re-offend seven years later. A Press Democrat article from October 10, 2010, describes the 35-year-old Marsh being arrested by Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office deputies for burglarizing multiple storage containers on the outskirts of Ukiah. Marsh reportedly stole goods from four to five containers amassing his wares in another storage container where police found them. During the course of the investigation, he confessed to stealing $3,000 worth of DJ equipment from one of the containers.
The civil case filed by the Ukiah woman alleges Marsh has a history of meth abuse. We were unable to find documentation of methamphetamine use in Marsh’s past other than the civil complaint.
Tony Marsh is a large man. The lawyers representing the plaintiff specified in their complaint that he stands at 6’2”.
Marsh’s transition from ex-con to homeless advocate is unclear, but we found documentation of his role in the county’s homeless support infrastructure beginning in 2017. That year he was intimately involved with opening Building Bridges, Ukiah’s homeless shelter.
Marsh referenced his experience helping open the shelter in 2017 in a letter to the editor published by the Anderson Valley Advertiser on February 14, 2020. In that letter, he endorsed then-candidate for Mendocino County’s 2nd District Supervisor Mo Mulheren celebrating her direct involvement with the shelter’s staff and guests.
Marsh’s LinkedIn states he began working as a Team Supervisor at Redwood Community Services in February 2017. His LinkedIn has no end date for his employment, which still reads “Present”, indicating he never updated his LinkedIn.
Multiple documents from 2019 indicate Marsh was no longer employed by Redwood Community Services. He was once a member of the Mendocino County’s Point-In-Time Ad Hoc Committee, a group charged with organizing the annual count of the county’s homeless population. All those documents (such as this one) indicate he was no longer a member of the committee because he was no longer working at Redwood Community Services.
The civil case documents offer an explanation for his exit from Redwood Community Services: he was fired for sexual harassment.
Despite attempts to corroborate this claim, the civil suit stands as the only source associating Marsh’s exit from RCS with sexual harassment. We asked RCS Chief Executive Officer Victoria Kelly if she could speak to the claim. Her response was, “[T]hank you for the inquiry but at this time RCS has no comment and will not be providing the requesting information.”
The next documentation of Marsh’s professional life comes from June 29, 2021, in a Ukiah Daily Journal article written by local reporter Carole Brodsky. Manzanita Services Executive Director LaSara Firefox-Allen described Marsh as “our newly-minted housing outreach coordinator and navigator.” She went on to say, “Tony is out there in the community looking for folks who have fallen through the cracks. He works with the county’s housing outreach team and helps people obtain housing vouchers.”
Lasara Firefox-Allen is no longer employed by Manzanita and when asked if she could speak to her workplace experience with Marsh, she said, “I’m sorry, I am unable to comment.”
As recently as April 21, 2022, an agenda from the Mendocino County Homeless Services Continuum of Care Coordinated Entry & Discharge Planning Committee listed “Tony Marsh, Manzanita, Co-Chair” under the “Invited/Attending” section indicating he was still considered an employee of Manzanita. In a review of subsequent months, Marsh’s name had been removed from the agendas. This could suggest he was no longer part of that planning committee or he was no longer employed at Manzanita.
‘You Know You Want It’’: N.T.’s Account of Tony Marsh’s Alleged Sexual Abuse
N.T.’s complaint begins when she was hired by Manzanita Services in September 2021 and found herself under the direct supervision of Marsh. There is no mention of a period of grooming behaviors or initial goodwill between the colleagues besides making his new female colleague oatmeal or bagels in the mornings and buying her espresso shots.
For simplicity, the following is a list of the sexual comments Marsh is said to have directed at N.T., despite her bringing up multiple times that she was married and not interested in him: “I can make you orgasm like you never had before.” “I want to throw you on the bed and floor” “I want to bend you over and fuck you”.
He would often invite the woman to a hotel to have sex. He told her “he had dreams about having sexual intercourse with [her] and that he could not stop envisioning it.” He repeatedly told her to just give him a chance.
He spoke of “wanting to perform oral sex on [her’]” explaining that “he would go down on [her] until she orgasms” promising to perform oral sex if they got a hotel room. At one point, Marsh told this female colleague to “drop her pants and he would eat it right now.”
N.T. also allegedly suffered perpetual physical harassment committed by Marsh. He reportedly walked behind her when she sat at her work computer and “smelled her while touching [her] back and shoulders.”
On at least 15 separate occasions, Marsh purportedly followed N.T. into the bathroom they shared and would proceed to “place his hands on Plaintiff’s hips and/or butt. She would make her discomfort known by saying “Get your fucking hands off me.” Marsh would “laugh and state, ‘you know you want it.’”
Around their workspace, Marsh would grab N.T’s butt, arms, inner thighs, thighs, and shoulders despite the woman repeatedly telling him directly to “stop!”
The most egregious physical harassment was described in detail: “Defendant Marsh followed Plaintiff into the bathroom, from behind, Defendant Marsh placed his hand in between Plaintiff’s legs on Plaintiff’s vagina and pulled his hand back tracing his fingers along Plaintiff’s vagina, inner legs, and butt.”
According to the N.T.’s complaint, she watched as Marsh walked up to one of the other plaintiffs from behind, wrapped his hands around her waist, stuck his hands in her sweater pocket, and placed his “pelvis and genital on [B.F.’s] butt.”
How Tony Marsh Purportedly Treated M.B. Like a ‘Piece of Meat’
M.B. had a significantly longer tenure at Manzanita than N.T. working there between 2015 to 2018 and then from December 2020 till when she was “wrongfully terminated” in April 2022, as per the civil complaint.
In early 2022, like N.T., Tony Marsh became M.B.’s supervisor and trainer. While in this role, Marsh allegedly made numerous sexual remarks to M.B. such as “look at that tight little ass, “I just want to bend you over and tap that,” and, “you’re so sexy. Look at that butt.” Marsh reportedly “repeatedly made gestures towards [M.B.] as if [he was] performing oral sex.”
At one point, Marsh attempted to kiss M.B. Another physical form of sexual harassment M.B. experienced was Marsh grabbing her butt “like it was a piece of meat” and, after she said “stop”, he continued to grope her.
M.B. attempted to break through Marsh’s hardened exterior as the sexual assault and harassment continued by asking how things were at home with his wife. He reportedly replied, “everything is fucked up at home.”
‘If You Shave Your Monkey’: The Alleged Sexual Abuse B.F. Suffered from Tony Marsh
Like M.B., B.F. experienced Marsh making physical gestures towards her that indicated he wanted to perform oral sex. Marsh would put his arms around B.F.’s shoulders and waist while standing “extremely close.”
Similar to his alleged treatment of N.T. and M.B., Marsh would grab and squeeze B.F.’s butt. Despite her objections, he continued to grope her. At one point Marsh told the married woman “let me just get that pussy, I would eat it and make you want to leave your husband.”
One specific moment that demonstrates a clear connection between B.F.’s job security and her willingness to tolerate Marsh’s behavior was when he told B.F. “if you shave your monkey, I will lick it until you can’t stand anymore.” B.F. told Marsh that he could not speak to her like that. From there on out, he refused to train her.
An experience with Tony Marsh unique to B.F. is her knowledge that Marsh would hoard canned food intended for distribution to homeless people in his personal storage unit. At one point, B.F. asked Marsh for some cans for a homeless person and he “provided [B.F] with a limited number of canned goods.” He told B.F., “when Armageddon hits, my family will be okay.”
The Merger and Promises of Job Security
In March 2022, the Board Chair of Manzanita Services Susan Era announced to the staff that their organization would be merging with Tapestry Family Services. An internal communication included in all three of the plaintiff’s complaints said the merger, “is a strategic move for us that will benefit both agencies and allow Manzanita greater opportunities in addressing our challenges.”
The two entities would retain their names and the organizations’ leadership and staffing would remain while Executive Director Natalie Shepard was brought in to facilitate the merger and lead the transition.” The communication assured staff that all permanent staff will retain their positions.
Though these two entities merged, staff remained specific to the organization that originally hired them. Tapestry Family Services Chair Kathy James told us that neither the plaintiffs nor Marsh were ever employees of Tapestry, “despite what the lawsuit claims.” In light of the lawsuit, James said, “no further comments can be made.”
B.F.’s civil complaint has a footnote that the Executive Director Sheperd and Marsh were long-time friends and previously roommates, a potential conflict of interest when these women allegedly suffering under the sexual abuse of Marsh would finally report his behavior.
Time to Tell Someone
In March 2022, N.T. and B.F. felt compelled to tell a higher-up of the ongoing harassment. She reportedly reached out to Marsh’s supervisor, a woman named Lori Fisher “harassing, abusing, and repeatedly sexually assaulting” they were experiencing.
In early April 2022, the N.T. and B.F. proceeded to file formal complaints regarding Marsh’s alleged behavior, including reporting him for hoarding canned food. Marsh was initially placed on a leave of absence while the administrators investigated their claims.
On April 11, 2022, M.B. would report what she had been experiencing to Manzanita administration and Tapestry Supervisor Helen Falandes.
Later that day, a Tapestry employee referred to as Sydney texted M.B. saying, “I am in no way trying to pressure you…I am texting from my personal phone so nothing is “work-related” but I talked to [N.T.] and I just want to make sure you’re okay woman to woman.”
In response, M.B. said, “I just sat down with Helen and let her know what is going on.”
Tony was inappropriate with me and I was going to just live with that. What is wrong with me!”
She got another check-in text from Deborah Rodgers, a Tapestry employee asking if she was okay. M.B. responded, ” [Y]es just really fucking upset… So no lol.” Rodgers responded, “I’m here for you.”
M.B. reached out to Rodgers again that day saying, “Tony is texting me wanting me to call him and I can’t do that. This is all way too much. What is going on…I feel like I have so much anxiety right now over all of this.”
Rodgers reassured her saying, “you do not have to call him. Reminder to breathe and know you are a highly valued employee and injustices happened to you and I recommend you file a report.”
M.B. responded, “I did. I did it with Helen”
Complain to the Boss, Suddenly Your Job Is Uncertain
After reporting Marsh for his alleged perpetual sexual harassment and assault, N.T. began to notice the new Executive Director of Natalie Shepard “micromanaging [her] work and critiquing everything [she] did.”
Approximately one month after sending a memo to Manzanita staff that their jobs were secure during the merger, Shepard told staff on April 8, 2022, in a memo that 6-8 positions “are subject to potential layoffs and/or salary reductions” claiming that if these steps are not taken they will not be able to meet payroll.” In the memo, Shepard cited multiple factors influencing the decision to cut jobs including “budgetary reductions” and “the cost associated with administrative salaries”
In an attempt to confirm Shepard’s claims of Manzanita’s financial insecurity, we reached out to Dr. Jenine Miller, Mendocino County’s Behavioral Health Director.
She told us in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, before the merger of Manzanita and Tapestry, the County of Mendocino paid out $1,162,380 to Manzanita Services for their work providing specialty mental health services to adults and the operation of two wellness centers. In the same year, Dr. Miller said Tapestry was paid $2,838,957 for their work providing specialty mental health services to children and transitional age youth.
Tapestry saw an increase of over a million dollars for the 2022 fiscal year with the County of Mendocino paying out $3,910,000.
This year, during the fiscal period that Executive Director Shepard described Manzanita’s declining revenue, Dr. Miller did confirm Manzanita’s pay from the County of Mendocino decreased by over 75% receiving $251,720. She told us that this was associated with a downsizing of their services.
What remains unclear is how the finances of these once separate entities have evolved in the aftermath of their merger. Manzanita saw a decline in cash flow this fiscal year while the organization they merged with saw a dramatic increase. It stands to reason if these organizations merged, there could have been a sharing of fiscal resources.
It’s worth noting, Manzanita Services Incorporated was awarded over half a million dollars from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, with $255,625 approved in April 2020 and $264,231 approved in March 2021. Tapestry Family Services, the agency merging with Manzanita was awarded $437,500 by the same program. Nearly one million dollars had been granted to these two agencies by the federal government for their payroll. Two years later, they told their employees that six to eight of them would be without a job.
The ‘Mama Bear’ Instinct
On April 13, 2002, N.T. caught wind of Marsh allegedly trying to force a kiss on another female colleague, M.B. Counting herself, there were now three colleagues allegedly victimized by Marsh.
N.T. texted Lori Fisher, the administrator she had reached out to previously regarding her concerns with Marsh’s behavior.
Fisher responded, “[T]his kind of thing is not okay.”
She said via text, “[H]e literally tried to kiss [M.B.] at work up in Willits last week…I am so angry at him and felt l[i]ke the mama bear and want to scream at him”
N.T., even after allegedly being victimized by Marsh, demonstrated her loyalty to her work family by apologizing for her “mama bear” instincts: “I’m so sorry this is all coming out and non[e] of us need any extra drama or stress from work we all are so amazing and gre[a]t work team, and family but this causing that to not be ok.”
Why Would You Women Talk to Each Other?
On April 18, 2022, five days after reporting the forced kiss to Lori Fisher, the N.T. met with Fisher and the Finance Manager overseeing both Manzanita and Tapestry referred to in court documents as Tom.
What was intended to be a conversation about the ongoing abuse became an interrogation. Tom asked N.T. why she was openly talking with the other women who were allegedly sexually harassed by Marsh about their experiences.
The Thursday Workday Massacre
On April 21, 2022, mere weeks after bringing the sexual harassment and battery to the attention of their superiors, all three women were fired. The civil complaint describes the motives of that termination as discrimination and retaliation.
The civil complaint states that Tony Marsh was placed on administrative leave as a result of the complaints lodged by the three women, but never state if he was terminated as a result.
In summation, the lawsuit alleges these three women who suffered the non-consensual sexual advances of a superior had the courage to report their experience to their superiors. Instead of being supported, the three were met with skepticism, hostility, and ultimately termination, losing their jobs because they reported their abuser.
No Justice, No Peace
California law requires employers to have a sexual harassment protocol in place to protect employees who fall victim. If an employee is experiencing harassment and is met by an apathetic employer, the next step is filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal body that investigates harassment and discrimination and non-responsive employers.
If the EEOC intervention fails to bring an employer to the table, the EEOC will issue a Notice of Right to Sue and an employee can file a civil suit against that employer in California civil court. California’s employment lawyers typically work on a “contingency-fee basis”, meaning a plaintiff will not pay attorney fees unless the case is won.
These three women want justice. Of course, their attorneys are swinging hard on the sexual harassment and battery they all suffered and the retaliatory nature of Manzanita’s response. Compounding the legal liabilities of the defendants, a number of the verified civil complaints are associated with Manzanita’s alleged failure to pay minimum wage, overtime, provide a meal break, or itemized wage statements.
We reached out to Susan Eram, the Manzanita Board Chair, for comment on the case. She responded, “Because of the need to both ensure the confidentiality of multiple Manzanita Services employees and because it is improper to publicly comment on ongoing litigation, I am not able to respond to the allegations made by [N.T].”
The civil suit was filed on June 27, 2022, with the Mendocino County Superior Court. That day the court issued a summons for Manzanita Services Inc, Tapestry Family Services Inc., and Tony Marsh.
All three plaintiffs are scheduled for a case management conference on December 16, 2022. Lawyers will discuss the status of the case. A settlement could be proposed. All three plaintiffs requested a jury trial and Tony Marsh has posted jury fees for all three cases indicating he is preparing for the possibility these charges could go to trial.