SVO Apologizes Amid Backlash Over ‘Sexist,’ ‘Tone Deaf’ Email

The Silicon Valley Organization (SVO) issued a public apology on Thursday after defending a political candidate who had been the target of a settled 2014 sexual harassment lawsuit.

In an email to 1,400-plus members of the business advocacy association, SVO President Matt Mahood, board chair Lennies Gutierrez and political action committee board chair Tracey Enfantino struck a conciliatory tone: “We are sorry.”

“Our words diminished the severity of a sexual harassment claim and did not reflect the spirit and values of the SVO,” they said. “This was not right and we apologize.”

The mea culpa stems from an email the same SVO leaders sent last week in response to a labor-backed campaign mailer lambasting the organization for endorsing former San Jose Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, whose former policy aide accused him of gender discrimination in a 2014 lawsuit that the city ultimately settled for $10,000.

Had the SVO ignored the flyer, it’s unlikely it would have garnered much attention outside the Santa Clara County supervisor’s district where Oliverio is running against six other candidates. But the SVO felt the need to defend its good name by having two female board chairs do it for them.

“The SVO may be the most welcoming organization in Silicon Valley for women leaders,” Enfantino and Gutierrez proclaimed. “All the chairs of our major lines of business are women. Our current SVO chair is our first Latina leader. And all our vice president positions are held by women.”

They called the payout in Oliverio’s settlement “minor” and the degrading language he allegedly lobbed at his former employee and campaign manager “colorful.”

And they signed off with, “Yours during National Women’s Month.”

The reaction came swift and fierce.

Within minutes of the email blast, San Jose Inside saw Facebook light up with local community leaders rebuking the SVO’s response as tone deaf and sexist.

YOU GUYS, a commenter wrote. I am embarrassed to admit that I was unaware that the mere act of employing women meant that an organization could not possibly be sexist in how they acted on their values.

“Do they NOT have a PR person? Cuz at this point they’re gonna have to hire a ‘fixer,’” one prescient observer chimed in.

Several people who spoke to San Jose Inside likened it to the trope of the accused racist’s I-have-a-black-friend defense or to Mitt Romney responding to a question about the gender wage gap by touting his “binders full of women.”

Randi Kinman, a West Valley-Mission Community College District trustee and board member of Democratic Activists for Women Now (DAWN), came up with a new hashtag mocking the SVO’s defensive email: #WeHazWimmins.

Days later, SVO program director Susan Ellenberg resigned, saying she refuses to work for an organization that tokenizes women. Ellenberg, who’s running against Oliverio in the county’s District 4 race, also took issue with her employer endorsing her opponent instead of remaining neutral in that one contest.

Meanwhile, the six-member board of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) of Silicon Valley—a nonpartisan feminist group led by Ellenberg’s campaign manager, Angelica Ramos-Allen—announced that it would rescind its SVO membership. Ramos-Allen was paid $15,000 during the second half of 2017, according to the Ellenberg campaign’s Jan. 31 filing.

Oliverio passed up an offer to comment on the fracas while his defenders chalked up the controversy to political grandstanding.

Ellenberg denied posturing for her campaign, saying she spoke up as a woman who felt tokenized by her employer. She said she appreciates that the SVO apologized, which suggests that other members who share her values spoke up, too.

The SVO is still endorsing Oliverio.

Below is the full text of the SVO’s apology. 

To our esteemed members, partners and community:
Last week, we sent out an email to our membership regarding our stance on women. In an attempt to explain where we stood, we inadvertently caused harm. We are sorry.
Our words diminished the severity of a sexual harassment claim and did not reflect the spirit and values of The SVO. This was not right and we apologize. Our commitment to women and the issues that affect them in the workplace does not end with this apology. In fact, it has become clear that we have more work to do. We invite you to be a part of the conversation.
Our members, partnerships and coalitions span a diverse group of professionals in Silicon Valley. With their support, we will continue to work towards a Silicon Valley that is the best place for everyone to live, work, play, raise a family, and start, own and manage a business.
Matthew R. Mahood
President & CEO
Lennies Gutierrez
2018 SVO Board Chair
Tracey Enfantino
2018 SVO PAC Board Chair

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. We’re sorry but we’re still endorsing PierLuigi no matter how triggered you get, no matter how much virtue signalling you do, or rivers of SJW tears you cry.

    I think I like Matt.

      • Because a $10k out of court settlement is really only $6k after an employment lawyer working contingency takes their cut. Case was dropped.

        Taken from:
        The complaint does not state whether the councilman made unwanted sexual advances, but that he subjected her to gender discrimination. It offered no evidence to support the allegations and did not state if there were any witnesses.

        Worst I’ve read so far is he called her a “Bitch.” Grapevine tells me she would dress slovenly and PLO would ask her to “Dress up” which is perfectly appropriate when you’re the forward face for the office of a councilmember, in a city of 1m people.

        Is it raining today or SJW tears? I can’t tell.

        • > Worst I’ve read so far is he called her a “Bitch.” Grapevine tells me she would dress slovenly and PLO would ask her to “Dress up” which is perfectly appropriate when you’re the forward face for the office of a councilmember, in a city of 1m people.

          Probably he should have just said that her appearance was “deplorable”. That would have been OK, and probably would not have cost any money, and actually gotten him some Hillary votes.

        • I don’t think it’s fair to cite the amount of money paid in the out-of-court settlement as evidence that the victim’s claims here were phony or insubstantial. There are a lot of factors that could have played into that figure, from the strength of the City’s legal counsel to the fact that an emotionally distressed public employee might not put everything she’s got into battling her employer. As I recall it, Oliverio made repeated references to the victim about how his mother wanted to see the two of them become a couple, at least one reference I recall about the two of them having a baby together. Also, I have no idea how she was dressing when Oliverio told her to “dress up,” so I can’t judge her appearance as sloven or simply strait-laced, but city council admin’s do most of their work by phone and it’s rare for members of the public to come into the workspace of the council offices. If she was dressing up to impress visitors, they were probably special interest lobbyists, and they really have larger things on their mind when they come to meet. Not saying that appearance doesn’t matter at all, but I have seen men from Liccardo’s office walk around in jeans and a t-shirt in the middle of a work day.

          On another note, try not to get too much into an anti-SJW mindset. Yeah, there are a ton of hilarious videos on YouTube of far-leftists freaking out when someone tells them that men are genetically taller than women, but it’s way too easy to lump massive groups of people into one simple idea that you call SJW’s. Some people take things way too far and others have legitimate criticisms. Harvey Weinstein’s longstanding assault on women was enabled by a culture that discouraged and shamed women for reporting legitimate abuse, and that says A LOT. On the other hand, Aziz Ansari was unfairly accused of sexual impropriety for a consensual encounter, and those accusations were defended by some who felt a need to legitimate all products of the #MeToo movement. Trial by public opinion is generally undesirable, but I think it’s all we get in many of these cases, and it’s better than sweeping issues like rape and gender discrimination under the rug. My own judgement about this local case is that Oliverio’s actions were not good (put yourself in her shoes and ask yourself if Oliverio could have done better), and I hope he learned something from this debacle, but it’s not like he’s anywhere near the level of someone like Matt Lauer. He deserves judgement, but we shouldn’t put everyone with an accuser into the same basket of irredeemable evil, and we shouldn’t put every person concerned with ‘social justice’ into the same basket of emotional reactionists. Look for the facts and judge everything with nuance.

  2. “Democracy” seems to be little more than the “tyranny of the sophists”.

    “I cried bigger crocodile tears than you did ten years ago when someone was offended by the wrong pronoun and claimed sexual harassment and emotional damage.”

    Men aren’t fit to govern because they’re all bullying horndogs.

    Women aren’t fit to govern because they’re all whiny emotional and psychological wrecks from a lifetime of oppression in the male patriarchy.

    This self-government stuff really isn’t working.

  3. I know Oliverio’s victim, and I know what kind of hell she went through under his smart mouth. This woman NEVER dressed inappropriately. She has always has and does dress professionally. I also know Oliverio, and have heard some pretty inappropriate remarks come out of his mouth on many issues over the years. He thinks what he says and does to get his way is funny. He is just a control freak, and an attention getting hound. He took real joy in stealing Measure B signs and calling the Police on the Firer Fighters who were trying to get them back.

    As to Susan, I know her too. Susan is a woman of integrity, and did not resign as a campaign stunt, or because of sour grapes. Susan has always been a women’s right’s advocate. I applaud her for standing by her beliefs, and leaving her employment with SVO. I would have done the same thing.

    As for the SVO’s endorsement of a candidate who violated his female employee’s right to work in a safe, non hostile work place, and their lame apology, I call BS! They are using their female members as tokens to make them look good. What crap. They deserve to have organizations and businesses dump their memberships, and every woman working there should leave too, because by staying, they are enabling this behavior to continue.

    As a show of true regret for their actions, SVO needs to pull their endorsement of Oliverio, and choose someone else to endorse, but then, who would want this organization’s endorsement after this anyway. I wouldn’t.

  4. Harassing and abusing women (or anyone) is wrong. Making slanderous accusations or spreading information which is not accurate nor verified is also wrong. Both of these wrongdoings seem to be epidemics in this country. Fortunately, abuse has been brought into the light and we are working to end sexual harassment. We also need to end this trend of jumping on #bandwagons and making comments about situations without knowing the details. I know both Pierluigi Oliverio and the plaintiff in the harassment case brought against him, in fact I introduced them when Pierluigi was campaigning for city council. Being a woman, mother of a daughter, and volunteer who works with vulnerable populations in our county I take harassment seriously. In all the years I have known Pierluigi, he has been respectful to women. My observation was that the plaintiff in this case developed romantic feelings for Pierluigi which were not returned. I believe this lack of affection resulted in the harassment claims. I am in no way discounting accounts of real abuse and harassment, I am pointing out that a claim does not make the accused guilty. I had previously posted this on the Facebook pages “Pierluigi Oliverio #himtoo” (created as an anti-Oliverio site) and the Willow Glen neighborhood website –and my posts were deleted. This tells me that the people managing those sites are less concerned with respect and truth, instead they are playing “dirty politics” trying to damage Pierluigi’s reputation in order to help their preferred candidates in the County Supervisor race. Pierluigi does not deserve this character defamation and harassment. He is a smart, respectful, hard-working, man who promotes transparency and works to make Santa Clara County a great place to live.

    • Susan Cronin- With all due respect, your perception vastly differs from mine on this. I know them both too, and the victim, not “the plaintiff ,” is being re-victimized every time this story comes out.

      Secondly, you tout that, “Pierluigi does not deserve this character defamation and harassment,” yet your entire post, including your statement that the victim, “developed romantic feelings for Pierluigi which were not returned. I believe this lack of affection resulted in the harassment claims,” is doing exactly that to his victim. How dare you be such a hypocrite?

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