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A former California legislative staffer claims retaliation after accusing Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of misconduct

A former California legislative staffer claims retaliation after accusing Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of misconduct
Assemblywomen Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), left, and Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton). (Associated Press)

A former California legislative aide filed a formal claim for damages against the state Friday, alleging two members of the Assembly — one of whom he accused of sexual harassment earlier this year — tried to pressure potential clients to not hire him.

Daniel Fierro filed a claim of retaliation against Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), seeking at least $1 million. It claims the two Democratic lawmakers attempted to interfere with Fierro’s political consulting business because he filed a sexual harassment complaint in February against Garcia.

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Both lawmakers rejected the allegations and said they did nothing wrong.

"The ongoing claims that are being made are false,” Garcia said in a written statement. “They are yet another example of the litany of lies against me because of my advocacy and work for the #metoo movement, environmental justice, and good government. I'm confident the truth will continue to vindicate me.”

Quirk-Silva also denied Fierro’s allegations.

“Any claim that I have retaliated against anyone is categorically false,” Quirk-Silva said. “I welcome a complete and thorough review of all evidence, or lack thereof, in this matter and pledge to fully cooperate and help in any manner I can.”

The assemblywomen declined to comment further.

Fierro also alleges in the complaint that Fullerton City Councilman Jesus Silva, who is married to Quirk-Silva, aided the retaliation. Silva denied acting to retaliate against Fierro, saying the claim is "very much politically motivated." He noted that his wife, Quirk-Silva, has endorsed two of Fierro's clients, including Ahmad Zahra, a candidate for Fullerton City Council.

The claim is a required step before Fierro can file a lawsuit. In it, Fierro alleges that he was discriminated against “for being a man accusing a woman in the #metoo era.” The state now has 45 days to reject the claim or agree to a settlement.

The Assembly Rules Committee has hired a private attorney to investigate the allegations of retaliation, according to a letter received by Fierro and reviewed by The Times. Investigators are still reviewing the original harassment complaint, after Fierro filed an appeal to an initial finding that failed to substantiate his allegation.

Fierro said that Garcia stroked his back and buttocks and attempted to grab his crotch at a legislative softball game in 2014.

Garcia subsequently took a leave of absence from early February to late May and was directed by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) to take sexual harassment and sensitivity training classes after the investigation found she had “commonly and pervasively” used vulgar language around state employees. When confronted with the initial allegations in February, Garcia confirmed she attended the game, but added that she had "zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior," which she said was inconsistent with her values.

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The Assembly reopened the probe after Fierro filed an appeal on May 30, saying key witnesses had not been interviewed. The Assembly’s outside investigator “has been instructed to investigate these additional retaliation complaints,” wrote John T. Kennedy, a private attorney representing the legislative chamber, in the letter sent to Fierro.

Rendon declined to answer questions about the investigation.

Fierro worked in the district office of Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-Whittier) before he left his state job in July 2016 to start a political consulting firm. In the legal claim filed with the state on Friday, he alleges that one of his clients, Zahra, was pressured by Quirk-Silva when they met at a community event.

Zahra, who heads a film production company, said he received a text in June from Silva, the assemblywoman’s husband, that raised questions about his hiring Fierro.

“Is that the guy that is accusing Cristina? Is he familiar with OC? Fullerton?” Silva says in a transcript of the alleged text included in the claim filed Friday. The claim also says that Silva suggested that another consultant be considered.

In an interview with The Times, Zahra said Silva stopped short of asking him to fire Fierro.

“I asked him, ‘What do you want me to do? Do you want me to fire him?’ ” Zahra recalled telling Silva. “He said, ‘I’m not telling you what to do.’ ”

Still, Zahra said, “I felt very intimidated.”

Zahra said he received a June 15 text from Quirk-Silva asking for a meeting.

He said that he and Quirk-Silva were among several politicians at a June 16 event in Anaheim at which, he alleges, the assemblywoman approached him and asked him why he had hired Fierro.

“I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ and she said, ‘Get rid of him,’ ” Zahra said. Quirk-Silva did not specifically address this allegation in her statement but denied that she retaliated in any way against Fierro.

Zahra said Quirk-Silva did not bring up Garcia’s name or Fierro’s sexual harassment complaint during the conversation.

Zahra kept Fierro as his consultant. And in the end, Quirk-Silva attended a fundraiser for Zahra in Fullerton and voiced support for his candidacy.

The claim filed Friday also includes an allegation of retaliation when Fierro was competing for a public relations contract at the ABC Unified School District in Cerritos.

Fierro alleges a school board trustee, whom the claim refers to as “Witness #3,” asked trustee Maynard Law why the board did not give the contract to Fierro.

“Mr. Law answered, ‘Cristina wouldn’t like that,’ ” the claim alleges.

It also alleges that when Fierro’s firm was being considered to run a campaign for school bonds, an aide to Garcia offered to help Law find another political consultant to run the campaign for free.

The person identified as Witness #3 would not speak to The Times on the record because of concern over potential negative political consequences. But the person confirmed meeting with the Assembly investigator to corroborate the claim regarding Law's comment on Garcia.

Law did not respond to phone calls and an email seeking comment on the allegations.

5:05 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from Fierro’s complaint.

This article was originally published at 1:20 p.m.

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