Suspended California lawmaker sues Senate, alleges racism

2018-02-16 23:37
California Sen. Tony Mendoza announces that he will take a month-long leave of absence while an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him are completed. (Steve Yeater, AP, File)

California Sen. Tony Mendoza announces that he will take a month-long leave of absence while an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him are completed. (Steve Yeater, AP, File)

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Sacramento – A California lawmaker suspended amid a sexual misconduct allegation sued the Legislature for reinstatement, arguing he's being treated differently than his white colleague.

After pressure from colleagues, Democratic Sen. Tony Mendoza of Artesia went on voluntary leave after he was accused of acting inappropriately toward three young women who worked for him and firing another staffer who reported one of the instances. He was suspended last month because an investigation into misconduct hadn't concluded before he was expected to return from leave.

The lawsuit notes that Mendoza, who is Latino, has been suspended but Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg, who is white, has not been asked to step aside despite also facing sexual misconduct allegations.

A former Assembly speaker, Hertzberg is under investigation for allegations he made at least three female colleagues uncomfortable with hugs. Documents released by the Legislature on February 2, also show he was formally investigated in 2015 when a staff member complained he began dancing with her in his office, making her uncomfortable.

Mendoza has denied retaliation or behaving inappropriately and said in the lawsuit that no one has accused him of "any inappropriate bodily contact, propositions or threats".

Hertzberg and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Democrat and Mendoza's former housemate, didn't comment on the charges.

The allegations against Mendoza date back to 2008 and include inviting a young woman to his home and offering another alcohol when she was underage. Some of the incidents happened when he was in the Assembly.

His suit argues he has never been told what exactly is under investigation and is being denied due process while his constituents lose out on representation in Sacramento. Roger Bagne, one of Mendoza's constituents, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Suspended

The California Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to suspend a member, but the chamber voted last month to give the five-member Rules Committee the power to extend Mendoza's leave of absence.

"It is an unconstitutional sleight-of-hand where attacks on one senator are used to hide other more serious allegations and offenders from public view," the lawsuit alleges.

Mendoza is the only lawmaker who has been suspended since allegations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol broke open last fall. Two assemblymen voluntarily resigned, and their seats haven't been filed. Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia took a voluntary leave of absence last Friday.

Mendoza's suit also accused colleagues of making up their minds about his case before an investigation concluded. He specifically singled out de Leon and Democratic Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino, both members of the Senate Rules Committee.

"The statements made by members of the Rules Committee to the media – and not on the Senate floor – indicate that the tribunal wielding the authority of the de facto suspension was already biased against him," the suit alleges.

News of Mendoza's lawsuit came just hours after a legislative panel met about revamping policies involving sexual misconduct. The public's right to know if their lawmakers have engaged in sexual misconduct was the chief topic of discussion.

"The public pays our salary, the public pays the settlements, the public has the absolute right to know what it is we're doing," said Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes of Grand Terrace.

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