Fremont Theater operators ignored sexual misconduct, fired whistleblower, lawsuit says

A former Fremont Theater security guard is suing the company that used to operate the venue after he says he was fired for reporting allegations of sexual misconduct involving a 45-year-old employee and a 15-year-old coworker.

Ryan Twidwell, the theater’s former head of security, filed a lawsuit in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in January claiming Fremont Theater Entertainment Group owners Dan Sheehan and Taylor Stevens terminated his employment after he reported the alleged sexual misconduct in 2022.

Fremont Theater Entertainment Group managed the business but does not own the historic property in downtown San Luis Obispo, according to attorney Paul G. Metchik, who represents the theater owners. FTEG is no longer a tenant of the facility.

In the lawsuit, Twidwell claimed he “suffered humiliation, emotional distress and mental pain and anguish” from the retaliation he faced upon reporting the allegations.

In addition, Twidwell claimed his employers retaliated further when learning of his post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, ultimately reassigning his work while on leave, lowering his pay and terminating him.

The complaint was filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Jan. 19. Twidwell also filed an employment discrimination complaint with the California Civil Rights Department.

“While we deny any wrongdoing, our policy is to not comment on ongoing litigation,” Sheehan wrote in an email to The Tribune.

Report of sexual misconduct was disregarded, former Fremont Theater worker says

Twidwell was the head of security for the entertainment venue from 2017 to September 2022, according to his complaint. His role included security services, assigning security roles to subordinate security guards, planning meetings and conducting staff training.

On July 3, 2022, Twidwell said he was working the Sierra Music Festival in Quincy when a fellow employee who worked for the Fremont Theater Entertainment Group told Twidwell he had had sexual contact with a 15-year-old coworker, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint says the employee “seduced” the 15-year-old in a downtown parking garage and “illegally engaged in sexual acts with the minor,” including oral sex. The complaint alleges the employee told Twidwell that he had explicit images of the minor girl on his cell phone, which he got rid of.

After learning about the alleged misconduct, Twidwell reported it to Sheehan, Stevens and other company executives, additionally requesting the employee be removed from work until an investigation could be conducted.

The employee was not punished after the incident was reported, Twidwell said. Twidwell, meanwhile, was suspended while an investigation was pending, he said.

He further alleges that during the investigation into the employee, witnesses were “discouraged from cooperating with police and/or disclosing other instances of sexual misconduct in the workplace by trying to buy their silence and/or loyalty.”

“Defendants threateningly ordered plaintiff to remain silent about the incident and not discuss the matter with law enforcement,” the lawsuit reads.

Twidwell did report the employee to police, according to the complaint document. The San Luis Obispo Police Department did not respond to request for comment on the investigation.

Management changed employee pay and denied breaks, lawsuit alleges

Twidwell said that prior to his reporting the alleged sexual misconduct, the Fremont group already had a history of discriminating against him for his disability.

Twidwell, an Army veteran, was diagnosed with PTSD after his service, according to the lawsuit.

He alleged that in October 2021 he was “asked impermissable non-job related questions, denied work opportunities or assignments and denied accommodation for a disability,” according to court documents.

In one instance, Twidwell alleged he tried to use his sick leave, but the upper management interacted with him in a “hostile manner.” The hostility included pay reduction, exclusion from meetings and transferring his responsibilities to someone else, according to the documents.

Twidwell said around August 2022 — about a month after he reported alleged sexual misconduct to management — he was switched from salaried compensation to hourly. His position was classified as a “salary-exempt employee,” Twidwell said, though he did not meet the threshold for it.

Twidwell said this also coincided with when his “PTSD worsened.”

The compensation change took him from an annual salary of about $32,000, down to pay of $25 per hour, or about $27,000 annually — “significantly less pay than he would (earn) on a salary compensation basis,” according to the lawsuit.

Twidwell said he felt this pay transfer was a direct example of “discriminating and retaliating against” him. When he complained about his wages to Sheehan and Stevens, he said he was fired following “strained relations.”

Twidwell also claimed he and other employees were denied “appropriate compensation in accordance with labor laws,” including not being paid full wages, not being allowed to take breaks and not receiving overtime pay.

During busy shows, Twidwell claims he was not given meal breaks. Twidwell said the Fremont Theater was “chronically understaffed,” causing him to have to work during meal and rest periods.

He said the treatment has caused him to suffer, and he continues to lose earnings and other employment opportunities.

As part of the lawsuit, Twidwell demanded a jury trial as well as payment of wages he claimed he did not receive, along with attorney fees and interest.

All parties have been ordered to attend a case management conference on May 15, with a trial date expected to be set within a year of the complaint’s filing date, according to court documents. The case management conference will be overseen by Judge Tana Coates.