The California Legislature on Thursday released a limited set of sexual misconduct records for five investigations before 2006 in which a lawmaker or high-level employee was found to have harassed a legislative staff member.
The heavily redacted documents contained complaints, investigative results and monetary settlements. They included a $117,000 settlement, reported by The Bee in 2001, for an aide to former Sen. Richard Polanco who accused him of retaliation after she rejected his sexual advances.
In response to requests from The Bee and other media outlets, the Senate and Assembly in February divulged a decade of investigations that substantiated sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers and senior staffers. More records were released Thursday after a follow-up request for similar material before 2006.
The documents are not a comprehensive account of sexual misconduct cases at the Capitol in previous decades. The Bee reported on at least three other six-figure settlements in the 1990s and early 2000s involving alleged harassment by members of the Assembly.
The five complaints range from graphic emails to unwanted advances. They include:
- Josephine Figueroa, a former Assembly chief of staff, who among many other redacted incidents, shut down the office during work hours on multiple occasions and took her staff to the movies, where she insisted that one male employee sit next to her. She also once rubbed his shoulders without asking, made him give her a hug goodbye, repeatedly asked personal questions he did not want to answer, and called him around midnight on one of the last nights of session and asked, "Hey baby, how are you doing?" "Your actions were construed by your subordinate to be flirtatious in nature and your questions about his personal life were unwelcome," Lynda Roper, the Assembly's deputy administrative officer, wrote to Figueroa in 2005. Since she had resigned months before, Figueroa was told that she would have to participate in supplemental sexual harassment training when she returned to Assembly employment.
- An Assembly employee who in 2002 was warned for sending an email to colleagues that contained "strong sexual innuendo and was offensive in nature." Since he had previously taken mandatory sexual harassment training, the employee was told that he would be fired if he violated the policy again.
David Commons, who passed away in 2000, took an unpaid leave of absence from the Senate in 1994 after a series of sexual harassment complaints were made against him. The Senate Rules Committee, then run by Commons’ boss, former Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti, warned him not to sexually harass employees in 1992 after confirming an allegation that he put his hands on a female employee. A document from 1993 details allegations that Commons told a woman he “would like to make a copy of her” as she made copies for him, showed a woman a sketch he had drawn of “a naked woman with more than two breasts,” and invited a woman and her sister out sailing with him. It’s unclear how many different women were involved in the actions described in 1993. Another statement from 1994 says Commons, a retired Hollywood director and screenwriter when he took a job in the Senate, rubbed his arm against a woman’s breasts, then grabbed her arm tightly and said repeated “You didn’t think I meant to do that, did you?”
Ron Jackson was fired in 1996 by the Senate Rules Committee, then led by Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer. The Senate released Jackson’s termination letter and two documents related to a settlement with Sheila Gibson, an administrative assistant, without disclosing the allegations. A document from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing said Gibson settled for $20,000.
The Senate also released a settlement agreement with Karri Velasquez, who in 1998 received a $102,500 settlement and $14,710 in back pay and administrative leave. The Senate did not name the person she accused and provided no further details related to the case in the Thursday release, but The Bee reported in 2001 that it was Polanco.
The Democratic leaders of the Legislature originally committed to making public more than a decade of sexual misconduct investigations following an October letter signed by nearly 150 women declaring their unwillingness to tolerate a "pervasive" culture of harassment and abuse in California politics.
Those records, going back to 2006, named seven current and former legislators, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen, who was warned in 2013 to be "conscious of his conduct" after a staff member complained that Allen had made made a practice of standing unnecessarily close to her and rubbed his foot over hers under the table at a meeting.
Former Sen. Tony Mendoza, who resigned weeks later as his colleague considered an unprecedented vote to expel him, also appeared in the documents. One of his staff members complained in 2010 that Mendoza treated her differently and often texted her about personal business, invited her to dinner and tried to hug her; he was told at the time to text her only for work and not to hug his subordinates. Another investigation, prompted by The Bee's reporting, then concluded in February that Mendoza had likely engaged in "unwanted flirtatious or sexually suggestive behavior" toward six women.
Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, appeared in the February release for a 2015 incident in which he grabbed an employee and began to dance with her. Last month, he was banned from initiating his trademark hugs after a Senate investigation, prompted by The Bee's reporting, found his behavior had made two female legislators and a male sergeant-at-arms uncomfortable.