California Senate, Assembly Release Documents Detailing Claims of Sexual Harassment

SACRAMENTO -- In the name of transparency, California lawmakers took a major step toward dispelling the notion that the Capitol is shrouded by a culture of harassment Friday.

Senate and Assembly leaders made public dozens of pages worth of sexual abuse and misconduct claims filed against state lawmakers and high-level staffers.

All sexual abuse or assault complaints since 2006, for which the allegations were found to be more than likely true, were released.

Among the lawmakers facing allegations in the document dump are current Assemblymembers Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, and Autumn Burke, R-Marina del Rey. Among the current senators are Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia.

Senator Mendoza is already on leave from his post for inappropriate interaction with a staffer.

In addition to the sexual harassment claim against him, which forced him out of office, the documents show in April of 2010 the Assembly received a complaint that he’d been regularly exchanging inappropriate, “flirtatious” texts messages with a staffer. He also allegedly singled her out for lunch and dinner meetings and hugged the staffer often in a way that made her feel uncomfortable.

Senator Hertzberg was investigated for hugging staffers and other female lawmakers in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. One incident in 2015 describes a moment in which he brought a female into his office and danced with her.

Hertzberg responded to the allegation in a statement:

“This instance, a settled matter from several years ago, involves a single occurrence with a family member of someone I knew, and I'm sorry to her and anyone else who may have ever felt my hugs unwelcome. The integrity and timeliness of HR records is critical, and the fact that some records were written today and others were handwritten proves the point that the Legislature’s HR practices are problematic. I remain committed to working on solutions that will instill faith in the Capitol as a safe and accountable workplace for all.”

Assemblywoman Burke was alleged to have made sexually explicit comments with a staffer regarding anal sex. She was given a verbal reprimand on Oct. 12, 2016.

Burke responded to the allegations with a statement:

“This claim involved an after-hours conversation in which my staff member shared a personal story about his experiences as a young gay man with me and a group of co-workers. The claim was filed by a disgruntled former staff member who participated in the conversation. When this claim was brought to my attention, I took full responsibility for my part.

As a leader, I recognize my obligation to ensure a safe and comfortable work environment for everyone in my office and I think every claim needs to be taken seriously. However, I believed then and still believe that the complaint was motivated by the former staff member’s anger over being terminated.”

In January and February of 2013 Assemblyman Travis Allen, who's running for governor, was given warning about a complaint filed against him. The complaint alleges inappropriate physical contact with two female staffers. One staffer detailed moments in which Allen seemed “to make a practice of being unnecessarily close to her.”

On another occasion, the complaint alleges Allen "slid his foot over so it was touching hers.” It says Allen rubbed her shoulders in a way that made her feel uncomfortable.

Allen responded with the following statement:

“The release of this unsubstantiated complaint is a political attack by a Democrat led committee. I'm sure I've shaken many people's hands, tapped many people on the shoulder, and have even tapped people's feet accidentally. But there has never been anything in any of my actions that has been inappropriate, and nor will there ever be. I was actually shocked 6 years ago that any friendliness I displayed was in any way misconstrued. Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from inappropriate behavior.”

"Understanding just how bad the problem is certainly lends credibility to our calling out the fact that this is a real problem,” said Pamela Lopez, one of first victims of sexual abuse to come forward.

In November, she went public with allegations that former Assemblyman Matt Dababneh cornered her in a bathroom, began masturbating and told her to touch him.

"It's sad to see how often certain behaviors are repeated over and over and over again,” Lopez said.

Several other complaints were filed against capitol staff members and chiefs of staff to current state lawmakers.

Lopez says releasing these complaints is a step in the right direction.

“I'm interested in having a conversation about healing and moving forward and how we can all be a part of doing better,” she said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De Leon released the following statement in regards to the documents:

“Our California State Capitol must be a safe environment for those who work and conduct business here. The Senate has taken several important steps to build confidence in how we investigate and report sexual harassment allegations. Now we are taking another step to help provide a safe climate for all who work under the Capitol dome ... With the release of these documents, the Senate and Assembly are united in declaring sexual harassment in the Capitol will not be tolerated and will be met with severe consequences.”