The California Senate’s human resources office knew about Sen. Tony Mendoza’s alleged sexual misconduct with a female student Fellow in late September. According to Capitol Public Radio, instead of immediately placing the lawmaker on leave, or finding a safer place for the young woman — as experts say a properly trained, experienced HR professional might have done — Senate leaders left the Fellow in Mendoza’s office for another six weeks.
The Senate says its HR office first became aware of allegations that Mendoza engaged in inappropriate behavior on September 22, the same day it terminated three staffers who worked in the office of the Los Angeles-based senator.
That behavior allegedly includes repeated verbal offers and text invites to the female Fellow to visit him at home, according to a lawyer who represents one of the fired employees and a report in The Sacramento Bee. The lawyer also said that, on one occasion, the lawmaker invited the young woman to his hotel room at Cache Creek Casino Resort in Yolo County.
Eventually, the Fellow began a new job in another senator’s office on November 6. But HR and employment law experts say the Senate botched its response to Mendoza’s victim.
The decision to keep the Fellow in Mendoza’s office for six weeks adds to criticism of the HR experience, qualifications and competency of two of the Senate’s top administrators: Secretary of the Senate Daniel Alvarez, the chamber’s executive officer, and his Deputy Secretary for Human Resources, Jeannie Oropeza. Critics say Oropeza’s resumé invites questions over whether she had sufficient hands-on HR experience when she was hired.
“I do not believe that, for the position [Oropeza] holds, she is qualified,” said Samira Collier Watt, the former No. 2 Senate HR official, of her boss.
In addition, six current or former chiefs of staff to senators in both political parties criticized Oropeza in particular for a lack of accessibility and inconsistent responses. Several of them also questioned Alvarez’s oversight of the HR office. “My experience has been disheartening at best,” one said.
Alvarez and Oropeza declined to discuss these allegations or the Mendoza incident. But Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León’s office defends Oropeza as “an eminently qualified and respected” public servant.
Oropeza’s resumé pointed to three decades of government experience, with a wealth of previous work in finance and budgeting. But it’s unclear how much day-to-day experience she had in HR or employment law.