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Report: California Legislature's Sexual Harassment Settlements Total Nearly $2 Million

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, displays state and legislative policies concerning sexual harassment during a committee hearing tasked with revising the California Assembly's sexual harassment policies, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in Sacramento

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

The California Legislature has paid out $1.9 million for sexual harassment complaints involving 17 staffers or key aides over the past 25 years. That’s according to a comprehensive report by Ryan Hughes of Tuple Legal, a nonprofit political research firm in Los Angeles.

The payout figure is nearly twice what’s been reported in the media.  

Hughes, a former Capitol staffer, spoke on Capital Public Radio’s Insight program on Friday about why he decided to shed light on the Legislature’s secretive settlements.

“Among female staffers, there’s this informal list of legislators and staffers that they didn’t ever want to be in a room with,” Hughes said. “As you’re having these conversations, there was just a sense of hopelessness that that’s how it was and that’s how it would always be. So, frankly, I’m happy that the Legislature is finally having to come to grips with this.”

During his time at the Capitol, Hughes worked for former Democratic Assembly Speaker John Perez.

He said that he used old news articles and court records to compile the report, which includes links to settlement agreements.

“I’m hopeful that the Legislature is going to have to open itself up to some more scrutiny on this and other matters, frankly,” he added. “But I’m also hopeful that there’s going to be some meaningful reform within the Rules Committee and with how the Legislature handles these claims because it’s just woefully inadequate right now.”

Hughes said his examination does not account for “the thousands of sexual harassment incidents in the State Capitol that have gone unreported.”

“Nor does it account for complaints of harassment that did not result in a settlement,” he said. “It only accounts for those incidents that resulted in a formal settlement.”

He added that there are additional settlements where it’s not possible to verify whether sexual harassment was involved. In those cases, he wrote, the Legislature paid out $306,000 over the past 25 years.

A majority of the lawmakers and staffers connected with the sexual discrimination settlements no longer work at the Capitol, Hughes said.

Hundreds of women have signed on to a letter describing rampant sexual harassment and abuse at the Capitol. State Assembly staff, however, have reported undertaking only eight investigations in the past six years — and none against lawmakers, even as a top Democrat resigned this week after multiple allegations.

Organizers of the letter have testified that a power imbalance between victims and their abusers, and a fear of retaliation, deters them from utilizing the Legislature’s reporting system.

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