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Former California Senate Staffer Says She Was Fired After Reporting Rape By Colleague

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The California Senate on September 12, 2017.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

UPDATED Feb. 26, 9:55 a.m.

A woman who worked in the California Senate says she was raped by a colleague in December of 2016, struggled with the emotional toll of the attack — and was fired from her job a year later as a result.

Catalina Sanchez filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on Friday against the California state Senate. The claim is precursor to litigation.

She says an Assembly staffer joined her and colleagues for drinks on December 16, 2016. Later, he had sexual intercourse with her without her consent, according to the claim.

She says she sought medical attention after the attack, and a rape exam was performed by a clinic in Sacramento. The results, she says, prompted the clinic to call “law enforcement.”

The complaint also says Sanchez was interviewed by a law-enforcement officer twice — once after the clinic notified authorities and again about a month after the attack. When asked “if she would like to press charges against the Perpetrator for the Rape, [Sanchez] answered yes,” the complaint reads. For reasons not stated, no charges were filed.

It also states that Sanchez’s physical and emotional injuries and disabilities caused by the rape included “constant fatigue, difficulty sleeping, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, nervousness, depression, feelings of helplessness and humiliation (sic) and panic attacks.” Sanchez’s attorney, Micha Liberty, says a friend of hers can attest to these issues.

After the incident, her chief of staff allowed her to adjust her work schedule dozens of times as she struggled to cope with the rape. The complaint does not say whether her chief of staff notified Senate human resources.

She eventually reported the attack to Senate and Assembly HR in March of 2017, according to the complaint. It states she met with the head of Senate HR, Jeannie Oropeza, and Assembly HR director Tosha Cherry for two-and-a-half hours the following month. In late April, an outside law group was brought in by the Assembly to investigate the rape.

Sanchez says the investigator’s tone implied the rape was her fault. The complaint states that the investigator commented on how the amount that Sanchez drank the night of the assault.

The complaint also quotes the investigator as saying, “It’s good you haven’t been going out much to take a step back and evaluate your drinking.”

Sanchez attempted suicide a few hours after this meeting with the investigator, according to the complaint. A few weeks later, she returned to work. But she was treated several more times for stress and PTSD-related symptoms.

In June, she says an outside law group found no violation of policy and the Assembly Rules Committee took no actions against the alleged staffer.

Though Sanchez worked in the Senate, she says she continued to encounter the Assembly staffer on the Senate floor. The complaint suggests that Senate HR was not responsive to her concerns.

She eventually was fired September 19.

A complaint must be filed with DFEH, and approval to sue must be granted, before a lawsuit can be filed against the Legislature.

The Senate did not respond to requests to discuss Sanchez’s case. The Assembly said it would not comment on personnel matters.

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the legislative chamber named in the complaint. Only the California state Senate is included. The timing of the encounter was also incorrect. The staffer only joined Sanchez and her colleagues for drinks, according to the complaint. She was hospitalized once and seen at a hospital 10 times for stress and PTSD-related symptoms, according to the complaint.

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