SACRAMENTO (AP) — California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a vocal leader of the #MeToo movement, faces fresh allegations of misconduct, including frequent discussions about sex and alcohol consumption at her Capitol office.
San Diego lawyer Dan Gilleon filed a formal complaint Wednesday with the Legislature detailing the allegations on behalf of four anonymous former Garcia employees.
The complainants allege Garcia, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, regularly talked in front of the staff about her sexual activity, including with other members of the Legislature. They also allege Garcia drank alcohol while doing official Assembly business and pressured staff to drink with her 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.
Ashley Labar, Garcia’s chief of staff, said she has “never seen the member engage in the behavior listed in the letter by Mr. Gilleon.”
Garcia took a leave of absence last week when it was revealed she is being investigated for allegedly groping Daniel Fierro in 2014, when he worked for a different legislator. News of the investigation marked a stunning twist in the California Legislature’s widening sexual harassment scandal that first broke open last fall and prompted two assemblymen to resign.
A joint legislative committee convened 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 panel has avoided commenting on specific allegations against lawmakers but its members have offered blistering criticism of a system they say is broken.
Garcia has been a leader of the #MeToo movement and a fierce advocate for women’s issues. She chaired the Legislative Women’s Caucus before taking her leave of absence. Caucus members voted Wednesday to install Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Eggman as the interim chair.
Garcia has authored numerous bills about sexual assault, activity and consent, issues 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 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.
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 sexual activities in the office. He acknowledged alcohol occasionally is present at the Capitol.
“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.”