SACRAMENTO -- Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia has been a leading figure in the #MeToo campaign and state’s anti-sexual harassment movement but she now finds herself accused of sexually harassing a male staffer several years ago.
The Assembly at the Capitol has already launched an investigation, and Garcia said Friday she is taking a voluntary, unpaid leave of absence until an investigation is complete.
The head of the Legislative Women's Caucus is accused of two incidents. The first, at a softball game in 2014. Daniel Fierro says when he was a staffer for an assemblyman, Garcia grabbed and squeezed his butt and tried to grab his crotch.
He didn't report the incident at the time.
Another unnamed lobbyist said at a fundraiser in 2016, Garcia made inappropriate comments towards him and tried to grab his crotch as well.
A private law firm hired by the assembly is looking into the claims.
"This is the sort of thing we'd seek to have investigated,” said Assemblyman Ken Cooley, chairman of the Assembly Rules Committee, which is tasked with investigating instances of sexual harassment. He says the seriousness of the claims warranted an outside investigation.
"The numbers of men who are sexually harassed are really hidden because so many men don't come forward,” said Beth Hassett, CEO of Weave, a support group for victims of sexual abuse.
What makes this even more surprising is that Garcia has been an advocate for legislation to protect whistleblowers against retaliation for speaking up. She was even honored by TIME Magazine last year -- appearing in their person of the year edition which was awarded to "Silence Breakers."
The allegations are the first of this nature against a sitting lawmaker to come from men since the Me Too movement took off. Hassett says that doesn't change their level of seriousness.
"Whether the perpetrator is male or female, it's still a power and control game. And that creates tension and the opportunity for sexual harassment,” Hassett said.
"There are important things she's been a part of,” Cooley said.
He admits the allegations against Garcia are ironic, given the prominent role she plays in the Me Too movement.
State Senator Connie Leyva responded to the allegations, saying Garcia's position as Women's Caucus chair would be immediately called into question.
In part of a statement, Senator Leyva said:
"Anyone proven to have sexually harassed or assaulted another person, regardless of their gender, should be held accountable for their actions."
Leaders of the "We Said Enough" movement also responded to the allegations on Twitter:
"We are concerned about these reports and they need to be investigated thoroughly, without delay."
The group also called for confidential reporting systems and due process for all involved.
Garcia said in a statement yesterday she does not recall the incidents and will work with the investigation.