Somehow it always seems like sex criminals come out ahead in Sacramento. No such luck for their victims.
When the state Senate investigated sexual harassment allegations against a high-ranking legislative staffer three years ago, the house’s handling appeared to be done quickly and decidedly. The staffer, Steve Davey, was placed on paid leave and ultimately resigned as chief of staff at the request of his boss, Republican Sen. Ted Gaines.
But Davey wasn’t without a job. Gaines’ campaign hired him immediately, even as the investigation continued, then kept him on after the allegations were substantiated. In fact, a San Francisco Chronicle review of documents released this month by the Legislature and other public records show that legislative employees who were disciplined for sexual harassment, even those who were fired or forced to resign, often faced no long-term effects on their careers.
Some even came out ahead.
One staffer was disciplined and went on to become an assemblyman. Another was fired, and appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to a higher-paying job just three months later.
On the other hand, many workers who complained of sexual harassment have had no such luck. Out-of-court settlement records show that the employees who complained were often dismissed, required to sign nondisclosure agreements and barred from applying for other jobs in the Senate or Assembly.
In one case, a former legislative staffer, Kristina Zahn, said she was fired in 2013 after she complained that then-Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Palmdale (Los Angeles County), made inappropriate sexual comments and forced her to do unpaid campaign work. She sued, then reached a settlement with Fox and the Assembly in 2015. In the settlement, the Assembly paid $110,000 to Zahn to cover her attorney fees and back pay. But she had to agree never to apply for a job in the Assembly again.
Some women who have spoken out as part of the #MeToo movement have reported that male lawmakers and lobbyists are hesitant to meet with them, saying they are too afraid of false accusations.
One Sacramento lobbyist, Alicia Lewis, said she was fired a week after signing the October letter titled “We Said Enough” that prompted the #MeToo movement in the Capitol. Lewis filed a lawsuit last month against the Wilke, Fleury, Hoffelt, Gould and Barney law firm, claiming wrongful termination and retaliation.
Some things never change.