A female California lawmaker who has been at the forefront of the #MeToo movement has voluntarily taken leave of her seat Friday after facing allegations of sexual harassment.
State Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia is being investigated by the Assembly Rules Committee over allegations, first reported by Politico, that she made inappropriate sexual advances toward another lawmaker’s male aide.
According to Daniel Fierro, a former legislative staffer for Assemblyman Ian Calderon, in 2014 Garcia caught him alone after a legislative softball game, stroked his back and buttocks, and reached for his groin.
Fierro said he was initially wary of speaking out publicly because he didn’t want his complaint to be treated differently due to the “gender dynamics involved”. But several weeks ago, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, he told Calderon about the incident, and the assemblyman then reported it to the Assembly Rules Committee, which launched an investigation.
“There is clearly a culture that affects both men and women in the Capitol that needs to be improved on and made stronger so the Capitol can do the good work that it has to do,” Fierro said.
Another man, a lobbyist who spoke to Politico on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the powerful lawmaker, said that he experienced a similar assault at a fundraising event at the capital’s De Veres bar in 2017, where Garcia allegedly propositioned him and attempted to grab his crotch.
Garcia, 40, has denied all allegations of inappropriate behavior saying that it was “inconsistent with [her] values”, apparently implying her signing a Sacramento letter citing the hashtag #WeSaidEnough protesting sexual harassment, and telling the New York Times that men had assaulted her at the state Capitol in Sacramento.
Garcia called for the resignation of then-Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra after The Times reported that multiple women accused him of harassment and was outspoken about the allegations that state Sen. Tony Mendoza engaged in inappropriate behavior toward female staffers, declaring she would not work with him.
The Assemblywoman said she would take an unpaid leave of absence from the Legislature while she faces a probe into harassment allegations against her.
“Any claims about sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard of accountability,” Garcia said Friday.
Including Garcia, there are ten ongoing sexual harassment investigations into Assembly members and staff. There are six open investigations in the Senate.