Capitol Alert

Spin the bottle game among newest allegations against female lawmaker

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, watches as the votes are posted for a measure before the Assembly on Aug. 18, 2016.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, watches as the votes are posted for a measure before the Assembly on Aug. 18, 2016. The Associated Press

A former employee of Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia filed a complaint with the state on Saturday, seeking to sue the Bell Gardens Democrat for allegedly firing him after he refused to play “spin the bottle” with her.

In the complaint to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which was posted online Sunday by his lawyer, J. David Kernick of San Diego wrote that during his time as a field representative in 2014, Garcia was “very disparaging to the staff and others, used vulgar language, discussed topics inappropriate for the workplace and showed herself to be very vindictive in nature.”

It is the second accusation of sexual misconduct against Garcia, who is currently on a voluntary, unpaid leave of absence while the Assembly investigates claims that she drunkenly groped a former legislative staff member. In addition, a lawyer on Wednesday released a list of other allegations from four former employees in Garcia’s office who said they wished to remain anonymous.

Kernick could not immediately be reached Sunday for comment about his complaint. In his complaint, he wrote that Garcia was “seemingly not critical” of his work until “after he questioned the appropriateness of her suggestion that after a fundraiser at a whiskey bar” they “sit on the floor of her hotel room and play spin the bottle.”

He was disciplined with a “write up for insubordination,” Kernick wrote, and then fired two days later. Garcia used this write-up to prevent him from finding further work in politics, he added.

Tim Reardon, who served as Garcia’s chief of staff in 2014, called the complaint a “complete falsehood.” He said Kernick was warned for not doing his job, was encouraged to do better and was fired when his work did not improve.

“If Mr. Kernick wants to talk about his time working there, then he ought to open up his own personnel records and let people see what was written in there,” Reardon said.

He said he never received any formal or informal complaints about Garcia or the office environment during his time as chief of staff. He believes the allegations are part of a political attack against Garcia, though he does not know who is behind it.

“It’s like a malicious, really bizarre alternate universe built on a lot of innuendo and lies solely to destroy to character of Assemblywoman Garcia,” Reardon said. “That’s all that I can see.”

Another former staff member shared with The Bee a voicemail they received last week from a private investigator, asking to discuss their time working for Garcia. A message left for the investigator by The Bee on Sunday was not returned.

Earlier this week, four anonymous former Garcia staffers submitted a complaint to the Assembly through the same attorney as Kernick, describing a “toxic environment” of heavy drinking and graphic sexual discussions in her office. It also included at least one allegation of illegal activity: that Garcia sometimes directed her staff to perform campaign work, such as fundraising and donation request calls, on Assembly time.

During a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, San Diego attorney Dan Gilleon said his clients wanted to expose Garcia’s outspoken advocacy against sexual harassment at the Capitol as “phony.”

“She’s probably going to have to, at some point, acknowledge that she has some issues,” he said.

The anonymous letter describes Garcia pressuring staff to drink with her, frequently sharing details about her sex life, constantly reminding staff members that they were “replaceable,” asking them to run personal errands such as taking care of her dogs and pressuring them to assist with campaigns.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Garcia wrote that she would “address each of these issues individually after the investigations into these allegations are closed.”

“However, in response to (the) allegations I will add that in order for legislators to accomplish all we want for the people of our districts and the people of California, we need talented staff who feel empowered to do their work,” she wrote. “That is the environment I strive for in my office and I am confident I have consistently treated my staff fairly and respectfully. In a fast-paced legislative office, not everyone is the right fit for every position, and I do understand how a normal employment decision could be misinterpreted by the individual involved in that decision.”

Gilleon said his clients were hesitant to come forward for fear of reprisal. He said the former staff members had not brought their concerns about her behavior to Garcia or the Assembly before, but the groping allegations that surfaced last week gave them the chance they’ve been waiting for.

Daniel Fierro, who now operates a political communications firm in Cerritos, said Garcia cornered him at a legislative softball game in 2014, squeezed his butt and attempted to grab his crotch. He said it was hypocritical of Garcia to put herself at the forefront of the Capitol’s anti-sexual harassment movement, and he came forward because he heard that others may have had similar experiences with her.

Garcia, who called on several male colleagues to step down over sexual misconduct allegations last fall, has said she is “certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

Related stories from Sacramento Bee