Sexual harassment cases at the California Capitol
The California Senate last November agreed to pay $350,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former employee who alleged that she was fired for asking for accommodation after she reported being raped by a colleague.
The settlement, which the Senate did not provide to The Bee, was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. It included $280,000 in lost wages and damages, $50,000 to cover law school debt and $20,000 for medical assistance and career counseling, according to the Times. The plaintiff, who is referred to only as “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit to protect her privacy, agreed to drop her complaint.
“The resolution of this case is a huge step forward for all employees at the Capitol who’ve experienced discrimination and harassment,” said Micha Star Liberty, the attorney for the plaintiff, who filed suit last May. “Our sincere hope is that in the future, the Legislature takes seriously and makes an effort to fully compensate any workers whose rights have been violated.”
The plaintiff was raped by an Assembly legislative aide in December 2016, after going out for dinner and drinks with friends, according to the lawsuit. She began experiencing difficult sleeping, anxiety, depression and panic attacks, and she informed her supervisor about the assault a few days later.
The Assembly hired an outside firm to investigate the incident in April 2017, according to the lawsuit, but the inquiry concluded two months later with no recommendation for action against the perpetrator. The plaintiff alleged that the investigator made insensitive comments about her drinking when they spoke, prompting her to attempt suicide.
In July, the lawsuit states, the plaintiff asked Senate administrators to bar the perpetrator from the Senate floor, where she would have to see him while she worked, but they declined. She also asked his parking spot to be moved to another garage, but was again rebuffed.
Two months later, in September 2017, the plaintiff was fired, according to the lawsuit. She alleged that it was “instantly apparent” that the office she worked for “no longer wanted to accommodate her reasonable requests for time off for medical appointments and to deal with her disabilities.”
“For the sake of all involved, we want to move forward and focus on the work we need to do for the people of California,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins said in a statement to the Times. “The result was acceptable to both sides and we are glad — for all parties — to move on with the business of the state.”
Sacramento Superior Court records show that the Senate defended the case vigorously through October, when it submitted a filing that argued the institution was not responsible for any harm to the former employee.
Records show that the Senate filed subpoenas seeking personal, employment and disciplinary records from the plaintiff’s former workplaces and her law school. Attorneys for the state also sought information about her academic background dating back to high school.