Legislature Has Paid Nearly $2 Million in Sexual Harassment Cases Over 25 Years, Report Says

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Sacramento lobbyist Pamela Lopez testified in an Assembly hearing this week that she and other women felt a complete sense of powerlessness as a result of sexual harassment they’ve experienced. (Katie Orr/KQED)

New research shows the California Legislature has paid out at least $1.9 million over the past 25 years to settle sexual harassment claims, all of that taxpayer money.

The research comes from Tuple Legal, a firm founded in 2017 by attorney and former Democratic Capitol staffer Ryan Hughes. He arrived at the number by compiling information from case settlements, court filings and media reports. He found the Legislature paid out an additional $306,000 for cases that may or may not have involved sexual harassment.

Hughes says the settlement agreements often protect the accused while exposing victims to potential and actual harm.

"It’s unfair to victims because their names are in these settlement agreements, media reports are generated with the victim’s names in it," he says. "And the Legislature goes out of its way to not include details about what happened and who was involved."

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Additionally, Hughes says the agreements often contain no-re-employment clauses that prohibit victims from being rehired in the Assembly or Senate.

"That is particularly burdensome to somebody who is working in the policy and political sphere because they suddenly have so fewer jobs available to them than they did before," Hughes said.

Legislature Has Paid Nearly $2 Million in Sexual Harassment Cases Over 25 Years, Report Says

Legislature Has Paid Nearly $2 Million in Sexual Harassment Cases Over 25 Years, Report Says

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The California Legislative Open Records Act exempts the disclosure of complaints received or investigations conducted by the Legislature. Hughes says that makes it difficult to know exactly what sexual harassment investigations have been conducted.

An Assembly subcommittee recently held a hearing on the chamber's sexual harassment policies where it was revealed the Assembly does not keep track of sexual harassment complaints, just investigations.

Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), who chaired the hearing, says that has to change.

"If there are staffers or members who are having an unusual amount of complaints, that is something that absolutely needs to be looked into. And there should be a mechanism by which that happens automatically," she says.

At that Assembly hearing, several women also testified that fear of retaliation discourages many victims from coming forward.

Friedman plans to hold at least one more Assembly hearing on the issue. The Senate is in the process of selecting an outside law firm to investigate claims of sexual harassment in that chamber.

In October, the We Said Enough campaign released an open letter signed by hundreds of women calling for an end to sexual harassment in the Capitol community.

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