Leader of state #MeToo movement accused of sexual harassment

The sexual harassment scandals hanging over the state Capitol in Sacramento took a dramatic turn Thursday when the most prominent member of the Legislature’s anti-sexual harassment movement was herself accused of improper behavior.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, has been accused of grabbing the buttocks and attempting to touch the crotch of Daniel Fierro, a former aide to Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, after a legislative softball game in 2014. Fierro was 25 at the time; Garcia was either 36 or 37, matching the age dynamics of the male state lawmakers accused of harassing younger female staffers. Fierro recently told Calderon of the incident and he notified the Assembly Rules Committee, triggering a formal investigation.

Garcia is chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus and was featured in Time magazine in December as one of the “Silence Breakers” who were named the 2017 Persons of the Year for coming forward to describe their experiences being harassed and to demand change.

Politico, which broke the story, also reported that an unidentified lobbyist said that earlier this year, Garcia had approached him at a Sacramento fund-raiser, crudely proposed having sex and attempted to grope him. Both Fierro and the lobbyist said Garcia appeared to have been drinking before their encounters with her.

Garcia issued this statement about the incidents:

“Every complaint about sexual harassment should be taken seriously and I will participate fully in any investigation that takes place. The details of these claims have never been brought to my attention until today. I can confirm that I did attend the 2014 legislative softball game with a number of members and my staff. I can also say I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values.”

Loyola law school professor Jessica Levinson told Politico that the allegations could set the anti-sexual harassment movement back “because when you have one of the faces of this movement facing these allegations, that’s a real problem.”

Garcia featured in coverage of landmark anti-harassment bill

The development came three days after unanimous passage of Assembly Bill 403, a landmark measure by Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, that guarantees employees of the Legislature whistleblower protections if they make allegations of sexual harassment or other misconduct against lawmakers. Gov. Jerry Brown quickly signed the bill, which had been blocked by the California Senate for four years after passing the Assembly.

Garcia was the first person quoted in the Associated Press story about the adoption of Melendez’s bill:  

“Legislative staff members wearing black gathered in the Assembly gallery and balcony to watch the debate,” AP wrote. “’You’re not standing alone,’ Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens told them from the floor.”

Garcia and Melendez were the lawmakers shown in a photo accompanying an editorial posted online Tuesday in the San Francisco Chronicle praising the passage of AB403.

The job protections for legislative staff were considered absolutely crucial by the #MeToo movement. Several women who came forward with allegations in recent years said their careers in the Capitol were destroyed as a result.

In November, the Sacramento Bee reported that state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, had fired three aides in September after he learned he was being investigated for allegedly inviting a young intern to come back to his home to “look at resumes.” Other staffers also came forward to allege misconduct by the veteran lawmaker.

Mendoza was put on paid suspension after an investigation of the allegations began. The Senate voted unanimously on Jan. 31 to extend the suspension by up to 60 days.

Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, and Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Woodland Hills, resigned late last year after being accused by multiple women of inappropriate sexual behavior.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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