State Senate Hires Outside Firms to Investigate Sexual Harassment

State Senate leader Kevin de León says everyone deserves a workplace free of harassment and sexual misbehavior.

State Senate leader Kevin de León says everyone deserves a workplace free of harassment and sexual misbehavior. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

The leader of the California Senate announced Monday he has hired an independent law firm to look into allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

An outside human resources firm was also hired to review the Senate’s policies on harassment, discrimination and retaliation. In a statement, Senate leader Kevin de León says everyone deserves a workplace free of harassment and sexual misbehavior.


More than 300 women working in politics have now signed a letter condemning a culture of sexual harassment, and in some cases assault, in Sacramento. The women have declined to name the men involved.

Adama Iwu, senior director of state and local government relations for Visa, was one of the women behind the letter. Iwu says while she’s glad the Senate is taking action, she questions whether it’s part of the problem.

“This is basically a self-investigation,” she says. “That’s tricky, and that’s risky for women who’ve already said they don’t want to come out.”

The hierarchical structure of the Capitol seems to provide little incentive for women to take action when there’s a problem.

Attorney Mary-Alice Coleman says she has spoken with many women about possible harassment claims around the Capitol over the years. But she’s only been involved with litigation for three. She says the power dynamics prove too intimidating for most women.

“If an Assembly member or a senator is involved, that complicates the accountability a hundred fold,” she says. “And it makes the situation much more difficult and perilous for the victims.”

And women don’t seem to be reaching out to their HR departments either. Debra Gravert is the chief administrative officer of the state Assembly, which oversees about 1.200 employees. She says the Assembly investigated three sexual harassment claims last year.

“But then you have this letter that says it’s prevalent. So it doesn’t equal what we we’ve seen,” she says. “It’s frustrating and disheartening.”

Still, Gravert says she believes the Assembly has a good process in place for responding to the complaints it does receive.

State Senate Hires Outside Firms to Investigate Sexual Harassment 24 October,2017Katie Orr

Author

Katie Orr

Katie Orr is a Sacramento-based reporter for KQED’s Politics and Government  Desk, covering the state Capitol and a variety of issues including women in politics, voting and elections and legislation. Prior to joining KQED in 2016, Katie was state government reporter for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. She’s also worked for KPBS in San Diego, where she covered City Hall.

Katie received her masters degree in political science from San Diego State University and holds a Bachelors degree in broadcast journalism from Arizona State University.

In 2015 Katie won a national Clarion Award for a series of stories she did on women in California politics. She’s been honored by the Society for Professional Journalists and, in 2013, was named by The Washington Post as one of the country’s top state Capitol reporters.   She’s also reported for the award-winning documentary series The View from Here and was part of the team that won  national PRNDI and  Gabriel Awards in 2015. She lives in Sacramento with her husband. Twitter: @1KatieOrr

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