By KATHLEEN RONAYNE | The Associate Press
SACRAMENTO — California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a vocal #MeToo leader, faces fresh allegations of misconduct in her office, including frequent discussions about sex and alcohol consumption at the Capitol.
San Diego lawyer Dan Gilleon filed a formal complaint Wednesday with the Legislature detailing the allegations on behalf of four anonymous former employees in Garcia’s office.
The complainants allege that Garcia regularly talked about her sexual activity, including with other members, in front of staff. They also allege Garcia drank alcohol while doing official Assembly business and pressured staff to join her in drinking at the office or at bars.
Garcia, in a Facebook post, said she will address each of the issues individually once an investigation has been completed. But she said the claims don’t square with the atmosphere she worked to create.
“I am confident I have consistently treated my staff fairly and respectfully,” she wrote.
Garcia took a leave of absence last week following news she is being investigated for allegedly groping a colleague’s former staff member Daniel Fierro in 2014. The allegations against her marked a stunning twist to the California Legislature’s widening sexual harassment scandal that first broke open last fall and prompted two assemblymen to resign.
A joint committee, which launched in January in response to allegations of rampant and pervasive harassment at the Legislature, will have its second meeting Thursday and hear from legal experts to discuss how to create effective policies. The nine-member legislative committee has largely avoided commenting on specific allegations against lawmakers, but its members have offered blistering criticism of a system they say is clearly broken.
Garcia, a Democrat representing the southeast Los Angeles County area including Bell Gardens and Downey, has been a vocal leader of the #MeToo movement and a fierce advocate for women’s issues. She had been the chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus before she took her leave of absence. Caucus members voted Wednesday to install Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Eggman as the interim chair.
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Garcia has authored numerous bills about sexual assault, activity and consent; issues which current staff members said are discussed in the office when relevant.
Gilleon, who has represented clients in past high-profile sexual harassment cases such as the case against former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, said his clients will cooperate with an investigation but do not want their names to be public at this time for fear of retribution.
“My clients will vigorously defend what they have said, but I will insist that the Assembly takes serious steps to ensure their protection against reprisal,” Gilleon said in a letter he delivered to the Assembly Rules Committee after a press conference on the Capitol steps.
None of the new complaints involve physical contact, but Gilleon said the former employees considered Garcia’s frequent talk about sex a form sexual harassment.
In addition to the sexual harassment, the letter also alleges Garcia created a hostile work environment by being “vindictive” toward staff and abused her authority by asking her staff to perform personal duties, such as taking care of her dogs. The letter also alleges Garcia asked staff members to help with campaign activities for her and other lawmakers on state time.
Tim Reardon, Garcia’s former chief of staff, said he never heard or was told that Garcia was discussing her personal sexual activities in the office.
He said alcohol is occasionally present at the Capitol but drinking is never excessive.
“There are times in a lot of offices where someone will have wine or that nature,” he said. “But there has never been excessive drinking like it’s some kind of drinking party.”
Ashley Labar, her current chief of staff, also denied the allegations.
“I’ve never seen the member engage in the behavior listed in the letter by Mr. Gilleon,” she said.