Four current California lawmakers, including a candidate for governor, are named in sexual harassment claims released today by the state Legislature.
The California Senate and Assembly released 12 years of documents that show a combined 18 substantiated or well-founded sexual harassment complaints against state lawmakers or top staffers. Click here to read the full documents.
The current officeholders named in the documents released Friday are Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) and Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina del Rey).
None of the four lawmakers received any discipline beyond verbal conversations.
Republican Assemblyman And Gubernatorial Candidate Travis Allen: ‘Unnecessarily Close’ Physical Contact
In February 2013, less than two months after being sworn in as an assemblyman, a legislative staffer reported complaints about Orange County Republican Travis Allen to the Assembly HR office.
According to a memo written by the HR employee, the woman described three incidents in which Allen’s behavior gave her cause for concern.
In the first, she said Allen came to her office door “and stood there with his arms spread open.” When she waved to acknowledge his presence, she said Allen replied, “You can do better than that!” The memo said Allen “entered her office and moved progressively closer to her, standing right beside her chair, making her feel uncomfortable.”
Another time, during a briefing when they were sitting next to each other, the memo said Allen “slid his foot over so that it was touching hers.”
The final incident, dated Jan. 31, 2013, took place in a cafeteria. According to the memo, the woman says the assemblyman “approached her from behind, put both hands on her shoulders and gave them a squeeze.”
The woman also reported that “another woman in the office” described a handshake with Allen in which he continued to hold onto her hand beyond a normal length of time and “petted it.”
Three days after the woman reported her concerns to Assembly HR, then-chief administrative officer Jon Waldie spoke with Allen. According to the Assembly documents, Waldie told Allen that two women had “perceived him as being too familiar and it was making them feel uncomfortable.”
Allen replied that he could not recall being too familiar with staff but did recall two women becoming “overly friendly” with him at an event outside the Capitol.
The documents say Waldie reminded Allen “to be very conscious of his conduct.” Beyond that, there is no sign that the assembly member was subject to any further discipline.
Allen, one of three Republican candidates for California governor, framed the release of the allegations against him through a political lens.
“The release of this unsubstantiated complaint is a political attack by a Democrat led committee,” Allen said in an emailed statement. “I'm sure I've shaken many people's hands, tapped many people on the shoulder, and have even tapped people's feet accidentally. But there has never been anything in any of my actions that has been inappropriate, and nor will there ever be. I was actually shocked 6 years ago that any friendliness I displayed was in any way misconstrued. Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from inappropriate behavior.”
Sen. Bob Hertzberg: ‘Dance And Sing A Song’
Sen. Bob Hertzberg is now known for his full-body hugs. He’s previously been accused by former Assemblywoman Linda Halderman of hugging her despite repeated objections. She did not file a formal complaint with the Assembly.
A former staffer did complain about Hertzberg in April of 2015, however. The woman filed a complaint with Senate HR that month that Hertzberg sang and danced around her while pulling her closer to his body.
“The Senator entered the office to inquire about paint color,” notes by HR dated April 13 of that year read. “During the discussion about the paint color, the Senator pulled the employee close to him and began to dance and sing a song to her.”
Senate HR described the incident as “uncomfortable and unwelcome.” After the complaint, Hertzberg met with Secretary of the Senate Danny Alvarez and the Senate’s employment attorney, and he was reprimanded and told that he “was making staff uncomfortable and that the behavior should not be repeated.”
“I hug people as a way to connect. It’s never meant as anything other than a gesture of warmth and humanity,” Hertzberg’s said in a statement released today by his office. “This instance, a settled matter from several years ago, involves a single hug 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.”
Sen. Tony Mendoza: ‘Flirtatious’ In Nature
A complaint against state Sen. Tony Mendoza, who is on leave during an ongoing investigation, dates to 2010, when he was an assembly member. It alleges an employee felt she was "treated differently than other staff" and was uncomfortable with his behavior. She says she was "afraid to say no to him for fear of losing her job."
Mendoza was accused of sending text messages that were "flirtatious" in nature.
Lynda Roper, deputy administrative officer with the Assembly, wrote in a September 2010 memo that she advised Mendoza to text the complainant only when it was a business-related message.
He was also counseled to be mindful of hugging anyone in the future, and that he should not hug staff at any time.
The staffer remained in his office. Roper wrote that she "did not anticipate a future problem."
Mendoza is now a senator and is currently under investigation for harassing a Senate fellow. Three members of his staff were fired last year. A lawsuit has been filed by one former employee who says the terminations were in response to their complaints about Mendoza's behavior.
The Senate has hired outside lawyers to conduct an independent investigation; Mendoza has reluctantly taken a temporary leave of absence until that investigation is complete.
Female Assemblymember Reprimanded For Participating In Sexual Conversation
Democratic Assemblywoman Autumn Burke was verbally disciplined by HR staff after a complaint about her participating in a sexual conversation in the office was substantiated.
A staffer alleged that Burke discussed anal sex with staff in 2016. Burke admitted to being part of the conversation, and an investigation found the claim to be substantiated.
Burke said in an emailed statement that the claim was filed by a “disgruntled former staff member who participated in the conversation.”
“This claim involved an after-hours conversation in which my staff member shared a personal story about his experiences as a young gay man with me and a group of coworkers,” Burke said. “I recognize my obligation to ensure a safe and comfortable work environment for everyone in my office and I think every claim needs to be taken seriously. However, I believed then and still believe that the complaint was motivated by the former staff member’s anger over being terminated.”
The director of human resources discussed the conversation with Burke, and “reiterated the need to maintain a professional environment in the office at all times consistent with Assembly policies,” according to documents regarding the investigation obtained by Capital Public Radio.
Fomer Lawmaker Bocanegra Was Put On Leave, Given Training After Nightclub Harassment Complaint
The Assembly Rules committee placed Raul Bocanegra — then a Democratic Assembly member — on an unpaid, three-day suspension after a staffer accused him of making unwelcome physical contact and verbal remarks at a local nightclub in 2009.
The employee asked that Bocanegra be banned from work-related social events involving alcohol, and any event the employee was required to attend for work.
Investigators noted in documents obtained by Capital Public Radio that there were no cameras in the nightclub and no eyewitnesses to the alleged incident, but that it was “more likely than not” that Bocanegra engaged in inappropriate behavior.
They ruled that Bocanegra should not be allowed to interact with the employee at the Capitol, and that any business needs be addressed through the employee’s chief of staff. They also asked him to participate in individual counseling and training about professionalism in the workplace.
However, they allowed Bocanegra to continue attending evening events where alcohol was served.
Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer for the Assembly at the time of the complaint, wrote the following in a letter to the plaintiff: “While the Assembly Rules Committee has expectations that staff conduct themselves professionally outside of the workplace and is able to take corrective action if these expectations are not met, we are not able to direct how or where employees. spend their time before or after normal business hours.”
Bocanegra resigned last fall after multiple women alleged him of groping and unwanted sexual advances.
Document Release Marks #MeToo Movement’s Impact
The Legislative Open Records Act does not require the release of personnel records, but Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) decided to make them available as the #MeToo movement continues to place the Legislature under scrutiny.
In letters responding to the public records request from Capital Public Radio and other media outlets, Assembly Chief Administrative Officer Debra Gravert and Secretary of the Senate Daniel Alvarez wrote that although the requested documents are “exempt from production” under LORA, the Assembly is releasing documents “related to sexual harassment allegations that have been substantiated against a high-level Assembly employee or a Member of the Assembly for which discipline has been imposed or the allegations have been determined to be well-founded.”
The documents released cover incidents from January 1, 2006, to December 31, 2017.
Adama Iwu with the We Said Enough movement praised the Legislature's decision to release the records. She added that "This release presented an opportunity towards re-gaining the trust of the public and of those who work in the Capitol community," she wrote in a statement. "However, this effort falls dramatically short of a comprehensive or transparent release of information."
In a statement, De Leon said that “the Senate and Assembly are united in declaring sexual harassment in the Capitol will not be tolerated and will be met with severe consequences.”
Two assembly members, Los Angeles County Democrats Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh, resigned last fall after women came forward to report inappropriate behavior. Mendoza, who also faces allegations involving two other women, is on a temporary leave of absence while two outside law firms conduct an investigation.
Correction: We originally reported that the Legislature released a combined 19 complaints today. In fact, it only released 18 complaints. We incorrectly double-counted one incident because the Assembly and Senate each released the same claim, which involved an Assembly staffer accused of harassing a Senate staffer. We regret the error.
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