SF Gate - 10.23.2017
Sex Harassment In State Capitol To Be Investigated After 300 Women Sign Letter [article]
By Melody Gutierrez
Updated 4:10 pm, Monday, October 23, 2017
SACRAMENTO — Following reports of widespread sexual harassment in the state Capitol, the Senate hired two outside investigators Monday to look into allegations and examine policies.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, announced he has hired the Berkeley law offices of Amy Oppenheimer to investigate, on the Senate side, claims by women that groping, harassment and retaliation are an unacceptable reality in Sacramento. De León said another firm, CPS HR Consulting of Sacramento, will review the Senate’s harassment and discrimination policies and recommend improvements in how the Senate responds to complaints.
The Assembly made no similar announcement. Its rules committee oversees complaints, with serious allegations referred to an outside investigator.
“There’s always more employers can do to protect their employees,” de León said in a statement, noting that the Senate hired the firms in response to reports of a “pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the Capitol community.” “Everyone deserves a workplace free of fear, harassment and sexual misbehavior.”
The allegations in the state Capitol were inspired by a recent movement among women in Hollywood identifying men who have been frequently accused of sexual assault and harassment, including the powerful film industry mogul Harvey Weinstein. In Sacramento, more than 300 women who work in politics began signing a letter on Oct. 13 written by Adama Iwu, a government relations executive for Visa, that said, “As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different. It has not.
“Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities,” said the letter signed by female lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative staffers. “Insults and sexual innuendo, frequently disguised as jokes, have undermined our professional positions and capabilities. Men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence.”
The letter and accompanying website, We Said Enough, prompted many women to speak out about their experiences with sexual assault or harassment in the Capitol, including one allegation from a lobbyist that a male legislator trapped her in a bathroom and masturbated in front of her.
Iwu said Monday that it remains unclear how the investigators where chosen or what the scope of their work will be.
“We would have liked something more transparent,” Iwu said. “This smacks of people investigating themselves, and that’s difficult for us to have confidence in.”
Melody Gutierrez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MelodyGutierrez