Sexual Harassment in California's Capitol? Outside Investigators Are on It Now.
By Katy Murphy
In response to a letter about sexual harassment that has been reverberating through the Capitol, California Senate Leader Kevin de León -- also a candidate for U.S. Senate -- announced Monday that his house will hire an independent firm to investigate allegations of sexual harassment, rather than handling such complaints internally.
"There's always more employers can do to protect their employees," said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. "Everyone deserves a workplace free of fear, harassment and sexual misbehavior and I applaud the courage of women working in and around the Capitol who are coming forward and making their voices heard."
The women's letter, inspired by the explosive allegations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, has since been signed by hundreds of current and former staffers, lobbyists and lawmakers who said they had experienced or witnessed groping, inappropriate comments or other "dehumanizing behavior" toward women.
"Enough," it said.
It was first published in the Los Angeles Times early Tuesday -- less than two days after de León announced he would challenge fellow Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the 2018 U.S. Senate race. In the early days of his campaign to unseat the powerful senator, the state lawmaker has been confronted with powerful claims about the culture of Sacramento politics and whether leaders, including him, have done enough to change it.
The Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer will be conducting an external investigation of the sexual harassment and assault allegations, while CPS HR Consulting will "review the Senate's policies and practices against harassment, discrimination and retaliation," de León said in his announcement.
Kevin Liao, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said the Assembly had an ongoing policy of referring "serious cases to independent counsel."
In the past week, women in politics have shared stories about behavior ranging from crude jokes to sexual assault that they were expected to tolerate. Lobbyist Pamela Lopez has told the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and other outlets that a current legislator pushed her into a bar bathroom, locked the door and masturbated in front of her. She did not identify the person, arguing that drawing attention to one person would distract from the broader cultural problem.
Liao said the Assembly has reached out to Lopez "regarding her serious allegation."
But some leaders, including Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, have pushed for a neutral, outside party to investigate all complaints involving the Legislature. And Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez has for years carried legislation that would extend whistleblower protections to legislative staffers who report sexual harassment or other ethical breaches. Her bills have yet to pass the Senate.
In a survey conducted early this year by the Legislative Women's Caucus, women staffers agreed that the Capitol was a "boys' club," with their responses averaging 7 on a 1-to-10 scale, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Months later, women in the Capitol echoed that sentiment in last week's letter. "As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different," the letter read. "It has not."
(c)2017 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)