California Senate bringing in outside firms to investigate sexual harassment allegations

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is among more than 140 women who signed the letter detailing sexual harassment in politics and demanding that it end. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, announced on Tuesday that the state Senate will hire outside firms to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol in Sacramento – allegations referenced in an open letter signed by women claiming widespread harassment while working in California politics.

“There’s always more employers can do to protect their employees,” de León said. “Everyone deserves a workplace free of fear, harassment and sexual misbehavior and I applaud the courage of women working in and around the Capitol who are coming forward and making their voices heard.”

The open letter was published on wesaidenough.com.

“The time has come for women to come together, to speak up and to share their stories,” part of the letter read. “The time has come for good men to listen, to believe us, and to act as strong allies by speaking out against harassment in all its forms.”

Below the text was a box to share and submit a story of your own to the group.

“If you see – or experience – inappropriate behavior, don’t sweep it under the rug. Speak up, speak loud, and know there is a community of people who will support you. Let’s work on the solution together,” the letter added.

In particular, the writing criticized the Legislature’s procedures for dealing with such complaints, with some women arguing they fear speaking out over concerns that it will put their professional life in jeopardy.

“If you hang someone out to dry as a Weinstein of the Sacramento community, that sort of gives folks the political cover to say look we got the bad guy, we fixed this,” lobbyist Samantha Corbin told the Sacramento Bee. “That’s not true. We want long-term culture change where men are held accountable and there is a system where woman can work and feel safe.”

Assembly leaders also said this week that they will launch public hearings, prompting some speculation that the claims are being given a heightened sense of attention in wake of the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal that has rocked Hollywood.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, issued a joint statement with with Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale.

“First, we must change the climate that has allowed sexual harassment to fester,” the statement read. “Second, we must ensure victims have a safe and dependable environment to come forward and discuss complaints no matter who the perpetrator is and without detriment to their career or environment. Third, we must ensure that sexual harassment is dealt with expeditiously and that the seriousness of consequences match the violations committed.”

The move by de León comes just days after he announced his primary challenge to longtime incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., likely creating a sense of urgency to quell any criticism that he presided over a toxic and abusive culture while in leadership in Sacramento.

The Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer will conduct the investigation and CPS HR Consulting will “review the Senate’s policies and practices against harassment, discrimination and retaliation,” according to de León.

One of the more explosive allegations comes from lobbyist Pamela Lopez, who described to several papers an incident where a current lawmaker, who has not been named, shoved her into a bathroom and masturbated in front of her.

The actions come in conjunction with the #MeToo campaign, which is spreading across social media, where victims are documenting their experiences with harassment.



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