Ray Estrella Fought the Santa Ana Elks Lodge and the Lodge Won

The onetime exalted ruler tried to the lodge into the 21st Century

The situation boiled over when a 76-year-old Latino—a loyal knight and good friend of Estrella—visited the office of a lodge chef, also Latino, on the evening of Dec. 6, 2011.

To an outside observer, such a visit would seem innocuous, but according to Estrella and others, there had been an unspoken rule that lodge leaders were not allowed to visit the kitchen. In a Dec. 7 human-resources complaint, the chef alleged that the loyal knight (who refused to be interviewed) intimidated him during the visit, asserting that he thought the loyal knight "might know karate because of his gestures."

Based on that document, the loyal knight was banned from the kitchen and had his membership suspended. Amazingly, that's not where the kitchen kerfuffle ends. In February, the chef signed a notarized statement that he was forced to sign the document containing the charges against the loyal knight because he was in fear of losing his job. The loyal knight, "in no occasion, has neither mistreated nor threatened me ever in the years we have known each other," the chef claimed.

Mark Dancey
Mark Dancey

According to the chef, what actually happened was that Fisher, the lodge's house committee chairman, had walked into the office "very agitated and angry," demanding to know why the loyal knight was in his office. The next day, according to the chef, he was taken to a meeting attended by Kay, Fisher and representatives from human resources, at which time they pressured him into signing charges. (Fisher did not respond to requests for comment.)

The loyal knight claimed the charges were baseless. "These people have brought me great pain and suffering on both an emotional and health basis," he wrote in documents for an appeal hearing. "I am under doctors [sic] care for shingles. My doctor states that this because of the emotional strains that I am under. I have engaged an attorney to assist me in defending me, and to also hold the persons involved in this matter personally liable for their actions."

* * *

The phony spat between the Latino chef and loyal knight was, of course, just a sideshow compared to the real one between Estrella and Fernandez. After Estrella went public with the sexual harassment allegations against Fernandez at the December 2011 lodge meeting, Fernandez filed complaints with the lodge against Estrella, calling for him to be either expelled or suspended for at least six months and up to three years.

Although Fernandez didn't respond to an interview request, in his complaints against Estrella, he dismissed the allegations against him as false. "These three witnesses have never revealed themselves, and the alleged victim has never come forward," he said.

Fernandez's side of the story is that he was "pointing to a female lodge guest's military medals, asking what that particular medal was representing," and that his wife was nearby as he did so. When he left, Fernandez added, he "thanked the female guest for being part of the veterans program and gave her a gentle hug and a slight kiss on the cheek, all of which was welcomed by the female guest and not at all offensive to the guest."

According to Fernandez, the lodge member who filed the harassment complaint knew the allegation was false and therefore "defamatory." Based on Fernandez's March 6 complaint, the Elks suspended the member for one year. The lodge member has appealed the suspension.

In another written complaint against Estrella, Fernandez claimed that Estrella knew it would be slanderous to mention the alleged sexual harassment in front of the lodge members present at the December meeting and that, prior to the meeting, the presiding judge had told Estrella to not say anything because it was slanderous and hearsay. Fernandez also claimed that neither the victim nor the witnesses were named in the allegations against him, that the whole thing was a scheme cooked up by Estrella to purposely discredit him and "drag his name through the mud on the floor of the lodge."

But others have come forward to accuse Fernandez of sexual harassment.

According to incident reports filed with human resources, Fernandez allegedly harassed several women on the night of July 31, 2010. One alleged victim said she sat next to Fernandez and he pulled her chair closer to him. "He put hands all over," she wrote. "I pushed him away."

Another witness described Fernandez as drunk. "He was going up to the girls . . . all night," the witness claimed. "He was hugging them. He was in a kissing mode."

The witness added that Fernandez was trying to kiss a woman on the cheek while they were in the bar area. "He touched her on the butt," the witness stated. "He kept trying, saying, 'Come on, come on.' He wouldn't take no for an answer. He kissed her on the cheek. She finally got away."

The witness also stated that during her shift, Fernandez went to "kiss me on my cheek and lips. I turned to [sic] my cheek. It happened again later. I had to keep setting my boundaries, like 'no.'" The informant concluded that she now understands "not to hang out with Elks. They have a reputation for drinking."

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