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Conroy Violated Assembly Policy, Probe Finds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A legislative investigation concluded that Orange County Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) violated the Assembly’s sexual harassment policies by embracing, kissing and making comments to a former aide.

But the probe, which was performed under the auspices of the legislative counsel, could not conclusively determine whether Robyn Boyd--a former part-time aide in Conroy’s Capitol office--was fired as a retaliatory move after she complained about the alleged harassment.

The conclusions were contained in a 15-page report by the Assembly Rules Committee that was released Thursday by a lawyer who represents Boyd in a sexual harassment lawsuit against Conroy and his chief of staff, Pete Conaty.

The report said both men did not deny that a satirical sign (reading “Sexual harassment won’t be tolerated, but it will be graded”) was posted over another female aide’s desk and that a “sexual harassment consent form” was circulated in the office as a joke. By failing to squelch such activities, Conaty did not uphold Assembly policy, the report concluded.

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As a result, the Rules Committee reprimanded Conroy for his behavior and docked Conaty a week’s pay.

Those revelations came as the Capitol continued to buzz about the Conroy case and another sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Assemblyman Rusty Areias, 45, (D-San Jose), and his chief of staff, John Barry Wyatt.

In that suit, filed by Deborah Simpson, 39, Wyatt is accused of making unwelcome sexual advances and Areias is accused of ignoring Simpson’s complaints. Wyatt and Areias have said the Assembly Rules Committee found that the allegations were without merit, but Simpson’s lawyer, Curtis Leavitt, on Thursday called the denials “an attempt to whitewash” the complaint. He cited a letter dated June 17 from the Rules Committee’s legal counsel that chastised Wyatt for his behavior.

Meanwhile, the Assembly reacted Thursday by overwhelmingly approving a bill hailed by backers as an important step in broadening the ground rules for sexual harassment lawsuits brought against doctors, lawyers and other professionals who provide services to clients.

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The bill, SB 612, by Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), was approved by a 56-14 margin and will be sent to the Senate for concurrence on amendments. Both Areias and Conroy voted for the measure.

Boyd’s allegations against Conroy surfaced earlier this week when her attorney, Carolee Kilduff, leaked word of the lawsuit. The suit was filed in neighboring Amador County last March to avoid publicity while settlement negotiations were underway with the Assembly Rules Committee, which is also named as a defendant.

Conroy and Conaty have repeatedly denied the allegations but have declined to give their version of events until the case is settled in court.

However, in an “open letter to constituents” sent Thursday to Orange County newspapers, Conroy said that “on occasion, it is true that I have placed my arm around an employee’s shoulder, male or female--but never with any sexual intention.”

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“I also have on occasion paid compliments to an employee who is looking particularly sharp or well-dressed--but never in a suggestive or demeaning manner. I do not live my life in a plastic bubble, afraid to interact or touch people, but I do respect my employees, male and female,” he said.

Conroy added that “the tragedy of this lawsuit, and similar claims brought against public figures, is that such cases tend to make a mockery out of real instances of sexual harassment. Although neither I nor my staff did anything shameful or malicious, Robyn’s complaint was taken very seriously by my office.”

Boyd, 35, began working for Conroy, 66, in March, 1993. In her lawsuit, she alleges that within days Conroy began acting inappropriately by occasionally kissing and hugging her, requesting back rubs and making comments laced with sexual innuendo. Boyd complained to Conaty in June, 1993, but alleges that she was ostracized after she refused to back off her complaints. She was fired by Conroy and Conaty that November. She then filed a complaint with the Assembly Rules Committee, prompting the investigation.

According to the report, Conroy on several occasions put his arm around Boyd. On one occasion, he kissed her in his car and asked if his behavior bothered her, but her lack of objection “was understandable given that Mr. Conroy was her employer,” the report said.

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Conaty on one occasion showed Boyd an X-rated weekly newspaper distributed on the Assembly floor by a lawmaker pushing an anti-pornography bill, the report said.

Conroy did not “specifically” deny Boyd’s claims that he asked her to “spoil him,” that he joked about hotel rooms or that he called her “special” and his “bookend,” the report said.

The report determined that Conroy “lacked sensitivity” when Boyd complained about his behavior. She claims in her lawsuit that he made a derogatory comment about her age and told her he would turn to another female employee instead.

Conroy and Conaty told investigators they had no knowledge that Boyd was uncomfortable with their conduct, which they felt “was not of a sexual or inherently offensive nature,” according to the report. Conroy said he treated Boyd “like a daughter, that she reciprocated and that he was unaware that she was offended,” the report said.

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Investigators said they found that Conroy and Conaty “made a concerted effort to change their behavior” once Boyd complained. Moreover, Boyd acknowledged that neither man “had reason to suspect, other than through common sense and common courtesy, that she was uncomfortable” with their behavior before she complained. Their actions, the report concluded, were the product “not of malice, but of ignorance and/or poor judgment.”

Investigators also said that Conroy disputed Boyd’s interpretation of several comments she felt were suggestive and that his explanations were “plausible.” In addition, the report said there are “simply no facts” proving that Conaty reduced Boyd’s work hours in retaliation for her complaint.

Conaty said he sought to fire Boyd because her part-time schedule could no longer be accommodated and her performance had deteriorated, reasons investigators found legitimate and non-discriminatory. But they took Conaty to task for failing to notify Boyd of her perceived performance problems, calling the firing “badly mishandled” and an event that “violated and undermined” Assembly policy on sexual harassment.

The report recommended that sexual harassment and sensitivity training be conducted for Conroy and his staff.

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