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California Legislature

Former aide to state Sen. Tony Mendoza files discrimination and harassment complaint against him

Sen. Tony Mendoza, left, during a legislative session last year. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Sen. Tony Mendoza, left, during a legislative session last year. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

A former aide to state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) has filed a written complaint alleging she was discriminated against and harassed by the lawmaker, and that she was improperly fired after she complained to other Senate officials.

The complaint by Adriana Ruelas was filed with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which looked at the allegations and then closed the case, giving Ruelas the ability to file a lawsuit against Mendoza and the Senate.

Micha Star Liberty, an attorney for Ruelas, declined to say whether a lawsuit is planned.

Senate officials said that Ruelas did not complain about Mendoza’s behavior until after she was fired last year.

“We don’t as a matter of practice comment on individual legal actions, especially those involving a terminated ex-employee. But suffice it to say, this Senate is absolutely dedicated to respecting and protecting the legal rights of all its employees,” said Dan Reeves, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.

Ruelas was hired by Mendoza as his legislative director in October 2016. The complaint alleges that David Pacheco, who has since been removed as director of the Senate Fellows Program, warned her that Mendoza had “issues with women” and asked her to “watch out” for a Senate fellow in her 20s who he had assigned to Mendoza’s office.

The complaint alleges that in February Mendoza gave the fellow one-hour notice that he wanted her to drive him to Napa for an overnight Latino Caucus Foundation event.

After Ruelas raised concerns, a separate hotel room was secured for the fellow, the complaint says. Ruelas said the fellow told her that Mendoza escorted her to her hotel room and said he would check on her “later” to see if they “could do something.”

The fellow, referred to in the complaint as “Jane Doe,” said she felt nervous and uncomfortable about Mendoza coming back to her room so she arranged to stay in a different room with another Senate fellow, the complaint alleges.

In August, Mendoza allegedly asked the fellow to drive him to Cache Creek for a fundraiser with no assurances of where she would stay the night. The fellow decided instead to drive up the next morning.

The complaint says Ruelas told Senate officials about an invitation the fellow received from Mendoza to go to the house he shared with De León to go over résumés before what Mendoza said was going to be a shakeup in the office that might benefit her. The fellow declined.

Ruelas said she voiced concern about Mendoza’s behavior to his top aide, Eusevio Padilla, in August, and Padilla said he had passed the concern on to Senate officials, including Jeannie Oropez, the Senate’s human resources director. Ruelas was fired a month later though Mendoza had been complimentary about her work to others in the office and in a June performance review, the complaint says.

At the time, a representative of Mendoza said three staff members were fired so the legislator could bring in aides with more expertise in his shifting duties.

“Clearly, claimant was not terminated due to any issues pertaining to work performance,” the complaint says. “Instead, claimant was terminated for complaining about Mendoza’s inappropriate and harassing behavior towards Jane Doe.”

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