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POLITICS WATCH : Painless ‘Penalty’

The rules of behavior in the workplace have received added attention in recent years as employees demand respectful treatment and reject some previously tolerated practices. Unfortunately, it is a trend not always apparent in Sacramento.

Last year an investigation commissioned by the Assembly Rules Committee found that Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) and his then chief of staff, Pete Conaty, had violated the lower house’s policy on sexual harassment. The committee reprimanded Conroy and doled out stiffer punishment to Conaty, suspending him for a week without pay.

Now it has come to light that Conroy paid Conaty’s lost wages from his campaign funds. The aide said the money was an advance for work he did later on Conroy’s reelection campaign. Conaty argued that he was in a financial bind and Conroy was just trying to be a good boss and help out. But the committee imposed the penalty to signal that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. An assemblyman should support that message, especially when delivered to a staff supervisor.

Investigators found that Conroy wrongly embraced a clerk and made inappropriate comments. Conaty was found to have shown the clerk an X-rated magazine and not to have notified her of perceived performance problems that eventually led to her firing. Investigators determined that both men acted not out of malice but out of ignorance or poor judgment. The flawed judgment, however, should not have continued past the actions to the evading of punishment.

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