California pays $350,000 to settle state Senate complaint
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s state Senate has agreed to a $350,000 settlement with a former employee who says the Senate failed to accommodate her needs and later fired her after she said an Assembly employee raped her, officials said Wednesday.
Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego, confirmed the settlement after it was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
The settlement paid from tax dollars is at least double any other recently reported legislative payout.
The Legislature has faced scrutiny over the last year over its handling of sexual misconduct complaints as part of the #MeToo movement that claimed the careers of several lawmakers. Los Angeles Democratic Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh and Sen. Tony Mendoza, a Democrat from Artesia, all resigned their seats. Several others have faced other sanctions in unrelated cases.
Lawyer Micha Star Liberty filed the lawsuit in May against the Senate and multiple Senate employees on behalf of the unnamed victim, saying the Senate did not appropriately accommodate the woman’s physical and emotional distress following the rape and unfairly fired her.
The alleged rape occurred in December 2016 and was reported to police, according to the lawsuit. The Assembly hired outside lawyers to conduct an investigation and did not substantiate the allegation, according to the lawsuit. It does not appear the police filed charges.
The lawsuit alleges the woman was raped by an Assembly employee at a social event following work hours.
Between December 2016 and September 2017, the woman asked to come into work late or to miss work on several occasions, and her supervisors cleared the request every time. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder on multiple occasions and suffered from anxiety and trouble sleeping, according to the lawsuit.
The woman says the Senate failed to accommodate her request to give her perpetrator a new parking space far from hers and to ban him from the Senate floor, both of which she said were necessary to limit her emotional distress.
The woman said she was fired in September 2017 for minor work performance issues. She believes the firing related to her requests for accommodation. She had not previously been informed that she was at risk of losing her job, she said, and her request to come to work late or leave early were never denied by supervisors.
She had worked for Democratic Sen. Bob Wieckowski of Fremont, according to the Times and The Sacramento Bee. His office declined comment and referred calls to the Senate’s human resources department. Liberty, the victim’s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment.
“The result was acceptable to both sides and we are glad — for all parties — to move on with the business of the state,” Atkins said in a statement.
Associated Press journalist Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this story.