SACRAMENTO (AP) — A former California state lawmaker likely kissed a legislative employee against her will, according to a state Assembly investigation made public Wednesday.
An outside investigator substantiated complaints that Sebastian Ridley-Thomas kissed the employee, held her hand, then called her several times after she made it clear she wasn’t interested.
Ridley-Thomas, a Democrat, resigned his Assembly seat in December 2017, citing unspecified health issues that he said forced five surgeries.
His attorney, Nancy Sheehan, said Ridley-Thomas presented evidence refuting each complaint during what she termed an unfair investigation and “continues to strongly deny the claims.”
The report is the latest to roil the state Legislature.
Three other Democratic lawmakers resigned in late 2017 and early 2018 over sexual misconduct complaints, and several others were sanctioned. Last week, the state Senate disclosed that it agreed to a $350,000 settlement with a former employee who said the Senate failed to accommodate her needs and later fired her after she said an Assembly employee raped her.
“The Assembly is committed to improving the culture in the California Capitol as it pertains to any form of harassment,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in letters to Ridley-Thomas and his accusers.
The Legislature is also setting up a new unit within the legislative counsel’s office to handle all harassment complaints and a panel of outside experts to determine whether the complaints are substantiated. Lawmakers will still have the ultimate say over disciplining their colleagues.
The investigation says Ridley-Thomas, the son of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, made the unwanted advances in 2016.
The outside investigator relied on 15 interviews and other evidence as part of her investigation, Rendon said, and found the incidents “more likely than not” occurred.
The employee with the most serious complaint alleged Ridley-Thomas asked to meet her for dinner, where he moved next to her on a patio bench. Ridley-Thomas said he was obsessed with her, held her hand when she got up to leave, walked her to her car then kissed her, the complaint said.
She said he later called her cellphone and sent her text messages, even though “I told him I wasn’t interested.”
Sheehan, Ridley-Thomas’ attorney, criticized what she called a “prejudicial complaint and investigative process” that “defied any definition of due process and objectivity.” She said someone with knowledge of the investigation leaked it to the Los Angeles Times in what she called “a gross abuse of power.”