California Senate leadership on Monday stripped Sen. Tony Mendoza of his committee chairmanship and two commission appointments as it investigates complaints of sexual harassment by the Artesia Democrat.
In an emergency session, the Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously to remove Mendoza as chair of the Senate Insurance, Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and from appointments to the California Commission for Economic Development and the California Workforce Development Board. The vote took place without discussion.
“Today, the Senate Rules Committee showed that no lawmaker is immune from our zero-tolerance harassment policies. This is only one important step – the next is a full, independent investigation led by outside experts, with publicly reported findings,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said in a statement. “Our State Senate must lead by example, restore trust and transparency, stop sweeping workplace misconduct under the rug and do everything we can to protect women who work in and around the Capitol.”
The Bee reported last month that Mendoza fired three Capitol staff members after they complained to the rules committee about his behavior toward a fellow who worked in the office, including that he invited her to his home to review her resume. Mendoza, who has called the allegations “unsubstantiated,” and Senate officials have denied any connection.
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The Senate said it has been reviewing the alleged misconduct since September and an investigation is ongoing. De León, who at the time lived with Mendoza, said he was unaware of the allegations, and he moved out of the home they shared after The Bee published its story. The rules committee also announced that it would move all future sexual harassment investigations to an outside legal firm.
Since then, two more women have come forward alleging that Mendoza behaved inappropriately toward them when they worked for him. One said he took her to a hotel suite at a state party convention and gave her alcohol, even though she was underage. The other said he sent her flirtatious text messages and repeatedly invited her to after-hours events, often alone, even though she was married.
Following the committee vote, Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, called on Mendoza to resign. In a statement, he also urged de León to support the passage of a bill extending whistleblower protections to Capitol staff members that has repeatedly passed the Assembly and then been blocked in the Senate.
“The women in the Capitol deserve real protection and a safe working environment, not just a panel interviewing law firms,” Vidak said.
Editor’s note: This post was updated at 1:47 p.m. with statements from de León and Vidak.