The California Department of Justice paid more than $1 million to employees who alleged they faced sexual harassment or workplace retaliation while presidential candidate Kamala Harris was state attorney general, it was reported Friday.
The settlements involved allegations of inappropriate touching or comments as well as other allegations made from 2011 to 2017. They were disclosed this week in response to a state Public Records Act request from the Los Angeles Times.
Harris didn’t know about the cases until the Times brought them to her attention. They were handled by administrators who were expected to follow strict policies against harassment, said Harris’ spokesman, Chris Harris.
However, the Democratic U.S. senator told the Times that she takes responsibility.
“As the chief executive of a department of nearly 5,000 employees, the buck stopped with me,” Harris said in a statement. “No one should face harassment or intimidation in the workplace, and victims of sexual misconduct should be listened to, believed and protected.”
Harris has been a prominent supporter of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment in the workplace. She was elected to the Senate in 2016 and said any complaints of harassment in her Senate office are forwarded to her immediately.
“No office is immune to misconduct, and there is much more work to do to ensure all are protected,” she told the Times.
In large government agencies, it wouldn’t be unusual for managers to handle harassment claims instead of the agency head except when high-level administrators are involved, said Mike Genest, who was finance director under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“If a director wasn’t told about it, I would not be suspicious that that was an issue,” said Genest, who spent 24 years as a manager in state agencies.
The largest of the reported settlements was $649,500, paid in 2013 to James Rodriguez, who was a justice department special agent, over allegations that he was denied sought-after jobs and faced other retaliation for reporting alleged harassment against him. In the settlement, the justice department denied all the allegations.
The cases also include a $400,000 payout in 2017 to a woman that alleged Larry Wallace, who was an administrator under Harris, harassed and demeaned her based on her gender. Among other things, the woman alleged that Wallace frequently asked her to crawl under his desk to change the paper in his printer.
The justice department denied the claims in the settlement, which has been previously disclosed.
In December, Wallace resigned his post as a senior adviser in Harris’s Sacramento office.