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California Legislature

Director of state Senate fellows program is placed on indefinite leave after harassment allegations against lawmaker

Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The director of a program that assigns fellows to work in the state Senate has been placed on indefinite leave just days after allegations of inappropriate behavior toward a young woman in the program were leveled against state Sen. Tony Mendoza by Capitol staffers. 

“David Pacheco, director of Sacramento State’s Senior Fellows Progam, has been placed on indefinite leave,” the university said in a statement. “Because this is a personnel issue, the university has no further comment.”

Former employees of Mendoza's office complained to Senate officials that Mendoza inappropriately invited a young woman in the program to his house after hours with an offer to help her work on her résumé. Mendoza, a Democrat from Artesia, said he offered to help the fellow find a job, but did not do anything inappropriate.

Micha Star Liberty, an attorney for one of Mendoza's former employees, said concerns about the senator’s behavior were reported to Sacramento State’s Senior Fellows Program, but they were not initially documented or investigated by the program.

The program announced last week that an investigation is now underway.

“We were just recently made aware of the allegations of sexual harassment of one of our Fellows,” the earlier statement said. “The University takes its obligations to protect its students and employees seriously, and we are in the process of investigating any violations of University policies.  All individuals have the right to participate fully in University programs and activities free from discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. We require all University faculty and staff to conduct themselves in accordance with federal and state regulations as well as California State University policy.”

Sacramento Councilman Steve Hansen said he and other alumni of the fellows program were circulating a letter calling for Pacheco to be put on leave pending the outcome of the investigation into whether he gave serious attention to the allegations against Mendoza.

“I was furious as a former fellow because the duty of the director is to protect the fellows,” Hansen said.

Pam Chueh, director of the Assembly fellowship program, will take over Pacheco’s responsibilities “in the interim to ensure program continuity,” Wednesday’s statement said.

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