Capitol Alert

California lawmaker’s chief of staff ‘grabbed’ colleague’s breasts, investigation finds

An investigation into sexual harassment allegations against a California assemblyman’s former chief of staff found merit to claims that he inappropriately touched a colleague, according to a Friday announcement from the Legislature.

The heavily redacted documents outline allegations against Mark Lomeli, including two claims made in 2018 by unidentified legislative employees.

One alleged that in 2016 that Lomeli “grabbed (the individual’s) ‘breasts, vagina, buttocks, and pushed his penis area on me” and “made unwelcome comments about (the individual’s) physical appearance.” The document does not say where the incident took place.

Another claimed he sent “unprofessional” text messages.

Lomeli did not return requests for comment.

Benjamin L. Webster, an independent attorney hired to conduct the investigation, interviewed Lomeli and 15 witnesses. Webster found that the allegations were “substantiated,” or “more likely than not” to have happened.

The chief administrative officer for the Assembly also determined Lomeli’s alleged conduct was a violation of the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.

Lomeli left his position as Assemblyman Mike Gipson’s chief of staff in January 2018, before investigations into the allegations began, records show. He served as the district office director before his role in the Capitol, Gipson’s office confirmed.

Lomeli appealed the findings to the Assembly Rules Committee. His appeal was denied on July 30. The Assembly does not have disciplinary authority over the former employee, the records said. It restricts him from future contact with the women who raised complaints about him.

The California Legislative Women’s Caucus has urged lawmakers since the #MeToo movement erupted in 2017 to address problems of sexual harassment in the Capitol. Three Democratic lawmakers resigned last year after they were accused of improper conduct toward women.

The Capitol’s #MeToo movement prompted the creation of the Legislature’s development of a new process to handle complaints.

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.