Accusations of sexual harassment continue at California state capitol

Photo: (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Sexual harassment scandals at the California state capitol continue to claim one lawmaker after another. And no one, regardless of gender or party affiliation, seems to be immune.

Two of the latest to be accused are Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia and Republican Assemblyman and gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen.

Garcia denies the allegations, but has taken a voluntary paid leave while lawyers investigate. She’s being accused of groping Daniel Fierro, a former male Capitol employee, after a softball game in 2014, and of attempting to grope an unnamed Sacramento lobbyist at a fundraiser last year.

In a prepared statement released last Friday, Garcia said, “Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of.  However, as I’ve said before, any claims about sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard of accountability.”

What’s particularly troubling about the accusations against Garcia is that she’s taken a prominent position in the state’s “Me Too” movement. She chairs the Democratic Women’s Caucus, and she was one of 147 women who signed a letter last fall drawing attention to sexual harassment at the state capitol. Her photo was also in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue in December highlighting women who have spoken up about sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, Allen’s situation is a bit different. He was one of four sitting California lawmakers whose names were included in the release on February 2 of sexual harassment investigation records within the state legislature. The release consisted of 18 complaints against legislators and staff that ran the gamut, from sharing sexually explicit photos to unwelcome hugs to grabbing subordinates on the butt and genitals.

In Allen’s case, he’s being accused by an unnamed female staff member of making “a practice of being unnecessarily close to her,” including sliding his foot over to touch hers and squeezing her shoulders in the cafeteria.

Allen has denied the allegations. In a statement, he called the claim an unsubstantiated complaint and a “political attack by a Democrat-led committee.” He added, “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.”

In addition to Allen, the legislators named included Democratic Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, State Senator Bob Hertzberg, and State Senator Tony Mendoza, who was an Assemblyman at the time of the incident for which he’s being investigated.

The release of the information follows a commitment by the Democratic leadership of the state to be more transparent about sexual harassment claims within the capitol.