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One California Lawmaker Faced Expulsion. Another Got A Warning Letter. An HR Expert Explains Why.

Jessica Paterson / Flickr

Jessica Paterson / Flickr

An investigation into one California state senator found that his behavior toward six women over a 10-year period was likely “unwanted” or “sexually suggestive.” He resigned last month rather than face a suspension or expulsion vote from his colleagues.

A different investigation into another state senator found that his unwanted hugs over a seven-year period made several lawmakers and staff feel uncomfortable. But this senator only received a letter of admonishment last week.

A leading California human resources expert says the Senate’s differing responses to the cases involving former Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Whittier) and Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) were justified.

“Based on the evidence that was able to be obtained, it does, in fact, seem reasonable that those conclusions were drawn,” said Mike Letizia, who runs a Stockton-based HR consulting firm and leads training courses on behalf of the California chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.

But Letizia questioned how Senate administrators handled some of the complaints against each lawmaker. 

Specifically, he says that “had HR stepped in when they were supposed to and actually done their due diligence according to labor code,” the misconduct “may well have been mitigated and stopped.”

As Capital Public Radio reported in January, the Senate’s human resources office knew about Mendoza’s alleged sexual misconduct with a female student Fellow in late September. But instead of immediately placing the lawmaker on leave, or finding a safer place for the young woman, Senate leaders left the Fellow in Mendoza’s office for another six weeks.

In Hertzberg’s case, outside law firms wrote in their investigative report that although Hertzberg “was counseled by Senate leadership on two occasions” in 2015 about concerns over his hugging and touching,  the senator had not “provided sufficient details” about the complaints.

“More information may have resulted in Hertzberg correcting his conduct with respect to unwanted hugs earlier,” the report concluded.

The report also says that this was a “mitigating” factor that the Senate Rules Committee cited as justification for issuing a letter of reprimand rather than imposing a harsher consequence.

Letizia said it is “extremely disappointing — in a state that has rigorously put together employment law and code specifically identifying what is and is not appropriate in the workplace — that they have somehow excluded the legislators that develop these laws from the same rules that apply to everyone else,” Letizia says.

A request for comment to Senate leadership — Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, Secretary of the Senate Daniel Alvarez and Deputy Secretary for Human Resources Jeannie Oropeza — was declined.

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