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Calif. Senate Says Sexual Harassment Complaints Will Be Investigated By Outside Group

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The California Senate floor on September 12, 2017.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Leaders in the California State Senate say an outside firm will investigate all future sexual harassment complaints.

The Senate Rules Committee has taken away investigative authority from the human resources department and has promised that the outcomes of future investigations will be made public.

Senator Toni Atkins is a member of the rules committee.

"The short-range plan is to pull this out of the current system where people really don't feel their complaints will be handled appropriately," Atkins said. 

Atkins says the firm that will handle complaints must be completely independent, and must be found quickly.

“We need to make sure that people will make the report to an independent investigator that is not part of the current system while we’re busy doing the reform we need to do,” Atkins said. 

She says the long-range plan includes creation of rules in the Senate and the Assembly that will protect employees. A survey of staffers could be conducted soon to identify how pervasive the problem is.

The Capitol is littered with stories of employees who have complained of harassment verbally or in writing and have suffered significant retribution as a result.

Senator Holly Mitchell is not on the Rules Committee, but is in the Women’s Caucus. She has been hosting a series of hearings on equality.

"We made strides up to a point thanks to Anita Hill (who testified she had been sexually harassed by then U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.) I think this is the next iteration in terms of now pushing the envelope forward to continue to have conversations about workplace culture and the role women can and should play in the work place," Mitchell said. 

The committee announced the changes after the Sacramento Bee reported Senator Tony Mendoza had fired three staff members.

The lawyer of one of the staffers told Capital Public Radio the employees had gone to Senate Rules with verbal complaints that included harassment of a woman in the Senate Fellows program.

Mendoza says he did not act inappropriately and was unaware of any complaints.

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