The California Legislature’s new office to handle sexual misconduct and other workplace complaints will open Feb. 1, more than year after the #MeToo movement rocked the Capitol and prompted several lawmakers to resign.
Legislative leaders announced Friday the launch of the Workplace Conduct Unit. The four-person unit will investigate all claims of workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment or discrimination, then a panel of outside employment law experts will evaluate the findings and advise the Legislature on how to act.
Lawmakers will still have the ultimate say on whether and how to discipline their colleagues.
“This is not the end solution, but it is an important step in our ongoing efforts to make the Capitol a safe and rewarding workplace,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, said in a statement.
The #MeToo movement hit California’s Capitol in October 2017, and multiple lawmakers were accused of unwanted behavior that ranged from groping to lewd conduct.
Three male lawmakers resigned in direct relation to allegations against them. A fourth resigned citing health reasons but the Legislature on Wednesday released an investigation finding that he likely forcibly kissed an Assembly employee. In total, allegations against ten California lawmakers were made public, including some that were investigated before the letter.
Eighty-five state lawmakers across the country have resigned, been disciplined or been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since the beginning of 2017, according to an ongoing tally by The Associated Press.
California legislative leaders touted the new plan as the most comprehensive of any Legislature to address misconduct. As of August 2018, lawmakers in 11 states took action to require outside investigations of sexual misconduct complaints, according to an AP analysis.
Both the California Assembly and Senate initially moved toward hiring outside investigators to handle complaints. The new Workplace Conduct Unit is an in-house system under the legislative counsel’s office, but it is independent of either chamber.
The appointment of the outside panel of experts appears to be unique to California. The Assembly and Senate each appointed one member, while California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye selected three.
They are: Connie Broussard, an attorney at a private law firm who specializes in bias training and workplace investigations; Vicki Laden, who has worked on sexual misconduct issues as the University of California, San Francisco, and for the Oakland city attorney; Linda Foy, a former attorney with the Judicial Council of California; Crystal Miller-O’Brien, corporate counsel for a firm that handles outsourced human resources work; and Fred Plevin, an employment attorney who used to represent the California Judicial Branch.
The investigative unit will be run by Julia Johnson, who was chosen by the legislative counsel without input from legislative leaders, they said. Johnson, a former assistant general counsel for the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency, will make roughly $173,000 annually.
“The Legislature cannot change the past, but we must create a better environment where victims are protected, offenders are held accountable, and mutual respect prevails throughout the Capitol and beyond,” said Republican Senate Leader Patricia Bates.