California governor orders misconduct reports to be tracked

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office directed state agencies Tuesday to start uniformly tracking discrimination and misconduct complaints and update harassment training.

Meanwhile, a former California Senate employee filed a lawsuit alleging that she was fired for reporting a senator’s behavior toward another young woman in the office.

The national reckoning over sexual misconduct that began last fall brought a spotlight on the California Legislature and state government more broadly, revealing a system that has long made it hard to track the full scope of misconduct at the Capitol. Three lawmakers have resigned, including Tony Mendoza, whose former legislative director filed the lawsuit Tuesday.

It’s nearly impossible to determine the full scope of sexual misconduct claims in state agencies because there’s no uniform tracking system, said Marybel Batjer, chair of the working group established to look at state policies. She noted each department tracks its own data. The working group is recommending returning to a uniform tracking system that the state used to follow.

“You’re not managing unless you’re measuring,” said Batjer, who also is secretary of the Government Operations Agency. The tracking system will only chronicle new complaints, she said.

A Sacramento Bee investigation published in January found the state paid more than $25 million over three years to settle sexual harassment complaints against agencies and public universities.

Cabinet Secretary Keely Bosler told agencies to take six total actions, including ensuring investigations into harassment and discrimination complaints are completed even if the employee who made them resigns.

It also directs agencies to expand training for employees charged with documenting and investigating complaints, update training curriculum and ensure all state employees receive training on how to prevent discrimination. Agencies also were told to institute codes of conduct “that set clear rules for appropriate behavior.”

The California Legislature is updating its own policies for sexual misconduct prevention and response. The Senate didn’t immediately comment on the new lawsuit.

Adriana Ruelas, who filed her suit in Sacramento Superior Court, was one of three aides fired from Mendoza’s office in September 2017. Ruelas alleged she was fired for reporting that Mendoza was behaving inappropriately toward a young woman working in the office through a university fellowship program. It also accuses Mendoza of disparaging her in the press.

Mendoza, a Democrat from Artesia in southeastern Los Angeles County, said Ruelas and the other two aides were fired for performance issues. Outside investigators hired by the Senate to look into harassment complaints against Mendoza found Ruelas and the aides were likely fired for reasons unrelated to reporting the harassment.

Mendoza resigned Feb. 22 after those investigators found he likely engaged in unwanted “flirtatious or sexually suggestive” behavior with six women, including the fellow. He’s running in a special election to return to the Senate.

Ruelas’ lawsuit contends the investigators did not rigorously probe the circumstances of her termination.

“It’s widely understood that the environment inside the Capitol is toxic and damaging with respect to sexual harassment and retaliation,” said Micha Star Liberty, an Oakland-based attorney representing Ruelas. “Ms. Ruelas’ claims are the first steps for the Legislature on this long road to cleaning up the behavior and taking responsibility for the harm done.”

The lawsuit names as defendants the Senate, Mendoza, Oropeza and Secretary of the Senate Danny Alvarez.

Alvarez, Oropeza, Mendoza and a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins did not immediately respond to requests for comment.