The Senate Rules Committee voted Monday to strip state Sen. Tony Mendoza of his leadership positions, including chairmanship of the banking committee, pending the outcome of an investigation into sexual harassment allegations by three women against the Democratic lawmaker from Artesia.
Holding an emergency meeting before the Senate resumes regular session in January, the bipartisan, five-member Rules Committee voted without comment to suspend Mendoza as chairman of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and as a member of the state Commission for Economic Development and the California Workforce Development Fund.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the Rules Committee, said recently that the suspension, and plans to hire an independent, outside law firm to investigate complaints of sexual harassment, are necessary to increase the safety of employees and protect whistleblowers.
“Like many in our Caucus, I’m deeply troubled by the quantity and specificity of accusations against Senator Mendoza -- and have therefore determined that Senator Mendoza should be suspended from Chairmanships, boards and commissions until the independent investigation into his conduct is complete,” De León said.
Mendoza, who did not attend Monday’s meeting, has denied sexually harassing former employees and a young woman assigned to his office by the Senate Fellows program.
Mendoza said later in the day he appreciates the move to an outside counsel for the investigation. “I understand the Rules Committee's decision to relieve me from the committee chairmanship to remove any perception of bias during its investigation of the unsubstantiated allegations against me,” the senator said in a statement.
Three former Mendoza employees allege they were fired after bringing concerns about the senator’s behavior with a 23-year-old fellow to the attention of supervisors. Senate leaders said the aides were dismissed for other reasons before they made any complaints.
One fired employee, according to her attorney, told supervisors that Mendoza had invited the fellow to his house on two occasions to work on her résumé as she looked for a new job, and that he also invited her to stay with him at his hotel during a political event. She said she refused his offer.
In addition, a 19-year-old intern told Senate officials that Mendoza provided her with alcohol in his hotel room in Anaheim during a political convention in 2008, according to the Sacramento Bee. The newspaper also reported that former Mendoza aide Haley Myers complained that the senator invited her to one-on-one meals and a weekend political event at Pebble Beach even though she was married. The Bee reported Mendoza also sent Myers after-hours text messages.
“Harassment of any kind should not be tolerated in the workplace and certainly not under the Capitol Dome, where we should be setting a higher standard,” Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), the Rules Committee vice chair, said in a statement after the vote Monday.
Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) separately called for Mendoza to follow the lead of Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, who resigned Monday under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations.
“Now that Bocanegra has finally resigned, I believe Senator Mendoza should follow in his footsteps and step down,” Vidak said in a statement.
12:45 p.m.: This post was updated with comments from Cannella and Vidak.
4:00 pm: The post was updated to include comments from Mendoza.