Complaints Led to Firing, Ex-Aide to Conroy Says : Lawsuit: Robyn Boyd details charges of sexual harassment, alleging it was ‘very common’ for the assemblyman to make unwanted gestures.
A former legislative aide who is suing Orange County Assemblyman Mickey Conroy for alleged sexual harassment came forward Tuesday to detail her charges, saying the 66-year-old lawmaker kissed her several times, made repeated sexual comments and ultimately fired her after she complained.
Robyn Boyd, 35, said during a news conference with her attorney present that it was “very common” for the Republican from Orange to put his arm around her and make other provocative but unwanted gestures.
A married mother of three young children, Boyd said she put up with the harassment without complaining for several months out of fear it would hurt her standing in the office.
“I wanted to be liked,” Boyd said. “I wanted to be part of the team.”
Conroy, who was privately disciplined by the Assembly Rules Committee over his handling of the case, continued Tuesday to deny the allegations, saying only that Boyd was taking events and reshaping them “out of context.”
“She’s free to file any lawsuit she wants to, free to say anything she wants to,” Conroy said. “I’m not free to say what I want because it’s a matter of litigation. I’ll have to save what I have to say until the proper moment.”
But another female employee who once worked in Conroy’s office came to the assemblyman’s defense Tuesday.
“Mickey is so harmless,” said Yolanda Benson, who worked as a legislative assistant for Conroy over a 1 1/2-year period before leaving in early 1993 to work for another lawmaker. “I just can’t believe it. I was with him alone on numerous occasions and never did anything like this happen. Never.”
Benson said she left to join Assemblywoman Andrea Seastrand (R-San Luis Obispo) because the new position was a promotion and paid better. During her tenure with Conroy, Benson said, the assemblyman and other members of the staff treated her well.
“He’d give me a hug with his wife standing there,” Benson said. “He’s such a good man, I can’t imagine him doing anything that could be misconstrued like this. He used to tell jokes, but they were corny, not off-color.”
Boyd, however, painted a decidedly different portrait during her short news conference at an office building across from the Capitol.
She said the problems she experienced were a “pervasive” part of Conroy’s office. During her first week of work in March, 1993, she attended an outdoor memorial service with Conroy. The weather was cool, so the assemblyman put his arm around her “and kind of pulled me in his jacket” instead of simply offering Boyd his coat, she said.
Such experiences aside, Boyd said she viewed Conroy for the first couple months as a “grandfatherly figure.” But then the unwanted encounters got worse, she said.
On one occasion, Conroy called her over during a fund-raising event, told a man standing with him to “watch this” and “puckered up his lips,” Boyd said. Faced with the prospect of making her boss feel “humiliated,” Boyd kissed Conroy. “I’m ashamed to say that I did it,” she said.
Boyd said Conroy regularly made sexually suggestive comments. She recalled how Conroy draped his arms around her and another female employee one afternoon while they were walking to a political event at a Sacramento hotel. Conroy commented that “he didn’t know if he should get one hotel room or two hotel rooms” because he had a woman on each arm, Boyd said.
Boyd said she talked with the other legislative aide, Michelle LaFranca, about Conroy’s advances, but that “she seemed to play into it. For her, it wasn’t an issue, I guess.” LaFranca died in an auto accident earlier this year.
Other staff members gave Boyd little solace, she said. At one point, she asked one “if Mickey was a ‘lech,’ ” Boyd said. The colleague told her not to worry, that Conroy was a grandfatherly figure who was simply enjoying “his day in the sun,” Boyd said.
When she approached Conroy’s chief of staff, Pete Conaty, to inquire about a salary increase he had promised, he put an X-rated weekly on her lap and “asked me how open-minded I was,” Boyd said.
Conaty declined comment.
Eventually, the treatment grew so bad that Boyd decided to complain. She said she talked it over for several days with her husband, trying to figure out an appropriate way to “let them know it wasn’t OK to treat me as a sex object.”
Ultimately, she complained to Conaty, who is also named in the lawsuit. Instead of resolving the problem, Boyd said, the complaint resulted in her being ostracized and ultimately fired. After her dismissal, she went to the Assembly Rules Committee.
The committee hired two attorneys to conduct an investigation, and they determined that Conroy and Conaty had violated Assembly policy by not reporting Boyd’s sexual harassment charges to the state Equal Employment Opportunity counselor assigned to the Legislature.
Conroy and his chief of staff were privately disciplined. Rules Committee investigations of sexual harassment cases are conducted behind closed doors and punishments are kept private unless the committee publicly censures a member. But one Assembly insider said that the brunt of the punishment fell on Conaty, who was docked a week’s pay.
Boyd was given a job in a clerical post, but left that job in December, 1993, because she was so upset over the problems she was experiencing, she said. She is seeing a psychiatrist for emotional trauma she has suffered as a result of the alleged harassment. These days, she said, “my sense of self-worth is not quite what it should be.”
A native of Long Beach, Boyd has a master’s degree in audiology from Cal State Long Beach. She was staying home with her children before she got a part-time job in Conroy’s office. Her goal was to work into a full-time position and help write legislation pertaining to the health field. Conroy sits on the Assembly Health Committee.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, contends that Conroy’s behavior was “intentional and malicious” and that Boyd was arbitrarily terminated without just cause, ruining her chances for a future in the state Capitol.