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California's Legislature investigated 31 abuse complaints made over the past decade

John Myers, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

While limited in detail, the information nonetheless provides the first official glimpse of the statehouse work environment when it comes to complaints of inappropriate behavior. The House and Senate rejected The Times' request for specifics and instead provided the summaries, arguing that such disclosure "compromises the privacy rights of victims, witnesses, and others."

The Times did not seek identifying information about victims or the accused in the initial requests. A subsequent request sought cases involving current and former legislative employees and current or former lawmakers in which the charges were found true or discipline was imposed.

The Times had requested aggregate data on abuse complaints beginning in 2006, as well as settlement amounts paid out and the cost borne by taxpayers for hiring outside investigators to review allegations. Legislative officials were asked, too, to disclose the number of staffers who had been reassigned in the wake of abuse complaints.

Officials previously said the California Legislative Open Records Act allows them to block the release of more detailed information. The 1975 law gives the Legislature more discretion in shielding records than does the broader California Public Records Act that applies to all other state and local agencies.

"Public disclosure may even have the unfortunate effect of discouraging our employees and others from coming forward with complaints or information," Daniel Alvarez, the secretary of the state Senate, wrote in an Oct. 31 letter to The Times.

Debra Gravert, the Assembly's top staffer, gave the same explanation in a letter delivered on the same day.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by state and federal law. The Assembly's personnel manual goes even further, describing a stringent "zero tolerance" standard -- including behavior that "may not be sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute sexual harassment in violation of law."

The documents released Thursday were created "for the purpose of promoting public discourse and attention to the important issue of sexual harassment in the workplace," according to letters from both houses to The Times.

The Senate released 72 pages of settlement documents, with the dollar amount totaling $599,584. In some cases, the parties said they would keep the agreement confidential, with one employee agreeing to simply tell people the "matter has been resolved." The Assembly released 30 pages of settlement documents, with agreements totaling $415,000. These other settlements ranged from back pay to cash settlements for reasons often described vaguely as "disputes and/or issues."

David Snyder, executive director of the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition, urged lawmakers to go beyond the minimum amount of disclosure on the existence of abuse complaints under the Capitol dome.

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