Capitol Alert

‘Uncomfortable and unwelcome’ dancing with Capitol worker led to reprimand for California senator

In this photo taken Thursday, April 20, 2015, state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, left, talks with Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, at the Capitol in Sacramento.
In this photo taken Thursday, April 20, 2015, state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, left, talks with Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, at the Capitol in Sacramento. AP

Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Los Angeles Democrat under investigation for taking his signature hugs too far, was previously reprimanded for pulling a Capitol employee close and dancing with her in an office, according to documents released Friday by the California Senate.

An unidentified female Senate employee complained in April of 2015 that Hertzberg pulled her “close to him and began to dance and sing a song to her” during a discussion about paint colors in another legislator’s office.

“This interaction was uncomfortable and unwelcome by the staffer in the office,” the Senate said in a note explaining the incident that was released on Friday.

As a resolution, Secretary of the Senate Danny Alvarez and the Senate’s employment attorney met with Hertzberg, explained that he was making the employee uncomfortable and told him not to repeat the behavior, according to the Senate. The note says he was “reminded about the Senate’s Harassment Policy.”

“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,” Hertzberg said in a statement.

The complaint was among dozens of previously sealed records that the Senate and Assembly released on substantiated sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers and senior staff members as the Legislature seeks to overhaul the institution’s policies and regain public trust.

The Senate provided very little detail about the complaint against Hertzberg through various documents. The documents included an email the woman wrote asking about the status of her “harassment complaint,” which she said she had someone else report to Senate human resources because she “was uncomfortable doing so.” It appears that she worked for a different legislator. The Senate released copies of handwritten notes about the case that seem to be written by an employee in human resources. A footnote on the document explaining the case says it was written Friday.

“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,” Hertzberg said. “I remain committed to working on solutions that will instill faith in the Capitol as a safe and accountable workplace for all.”

More than 140 women signed a letter drawing attention to pervasive sexual harassment in state politics in October. Sexual harassment and assault allegations prompted Democratic Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh to step down late last year. Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, is on an extended leave of absence pending the outcome of a Senate investigation into allegations that he harassed three former employees.

Former Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, a Republican from Fresno, in December said Hertzberg grabbed her tightly, pinned her in his arms with one hand on her lower back and thrust his groin into her after she complained to him that his bear hugs made her feel uncomfortable. Halderman served one term from 2010 to 2012 and said the incident occurred shortly after she took office. Hertzberg did not dispute the allegation.

After Halderman spoke out, two sitting legislators said Hertzberg’s hugs crossed a line for them, too.

One senator said Hertzberg intimately hugged her from behind on the Senate floor the day she was sworn into the upper house in 2014. She immediately told him to take his hands off her and never do it again, a request he respected and followed, she said. Hertzberg previously said he remembered a similar encounter and complied with the lawmaker’s request.

Another legislator said she attempted to diplomatically express her discomfort with Hertzberg’s “creeper hugs” in a conversation with him around the same time. Not long after they spoke, he went in for another embrace and she blew up on him, she said. He never hugged her again. Hertzberg has said he did not recall the incident.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León announced that Hertzberg was under investigation for allegations involving Halderman at a news conference in December. At the same event, the pro tem promised to release records related to sexual harassment claims against members of his house within 30 days.

De León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon issued a joint statement weeks later in early January pledging to “release documents related to sexual harassment claims that have been substantiated against a high-level legislative employee or legislator for which discipline has been imposed or allegations have been determined to be well-founded.”

The legislative leaders specifically said the document dump would include the initial claim filed against the accused and a letter sent to the parties involved describing the final outcome of the investigation. The name of the complainant and witnesses were redacted for privacy reasons.

Senate President pro tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, said on December 14, 2017 that he is working to make changes in how sexual harassment complaints have been handled in the California Legislature.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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