In a secret settlement, the Assembly paid $10,000 to a secretary who complained that over a two-year period she was the target of vulgar sexual remarks made by her boss, veteran Assemblyman Trice Harvey (R-Bakersfield).
In a complaint lodged in 1993 with the state Fair Employment and Housing Department, the secretary, Brenda Sue Mayo, said she "was subjected to work-environment sexual harassment." The document was released Monday to The Times under the state Public Records Act.
The legal settlement, especially the use of public funds, is likely to emerge as an issue in the coming year as Harvey seeks to unseat three-term Democratic Rep. Calvin Dooley in a hotly contested Central Valley congressional race.
When he was initially contacted by The Times two weeks ago, Harvey cited a confidentiality provision in the settlement and refused to comment on the payout, saying: "I can't tell you a thing . . . not one word. You're not going to get me to break the agreement."
But Monday, Harvey's spokesman, Jimmy Yee, said they had just obtained a copy of the complaint and the lawmaker was reviewing it. "We are stunned to say the least about some of the allegations," Yee said.
Yee acknowledged that Harvey signed the settlement agreement, but said the lawmaker never saw the complaint. Lawyers for the Assembly say the settlement agreement is not a public record.
While refusing to answer questions, Harvey, elected to the Assembly in 1986 after a stint on the Kern County Board of Supervisors, referred to a two-paragraph statement he issued in 1993 that described the resolution of the case as "amicable."
"The parties have agreed that the dispute was the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding," Harvey's statement continued. "It has been resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved. . . . She has agreed that neither I nor any person in my office engaged in any wrongful conduct."
But Harvey's statement failed to spell out the details nor that the state paid Mayo $10,000.
John Adkisson, a Sacramento attorney who represented the Assembly in the settlement, said the Harvey matter was rooted in "a misunderstanding of what is funny" and was "not a case that involved real serious predatory behavior." Adkisson is employed by the Assembly to conduct sexual harassment training seminars for lawmakers.
In documents filed with the state, Mayo cited six incidents in which Harvey allegedly made offensive comments. "The sexual harassment was verbal in nature and created a hostile, intimidating and offensive work environment," Mayo said in the documents released Monday.
In a recent telephone interview, Mayo confirmed that she received $10,000 but declined to amplify on her charges other than to characterize them as serious. Because of the settlement, the validity of Mayo's claims were not fully pursued by state investigators.
Asked why the agreement with Harvey was secret, Mayo said, "I suspect because he was a politician."
Mayo said she worked for Harvey as a scheduling secretary but lost her job two weeks after lodging the complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. She was later reinstated as an employee of the Assembly. She now works at a data center run by the state Health and Welfare Agency.
Mayo said her claim prompted negotiations that led to the settlement. Earl Sullaway, a spokesman for the Fair Employment and Housing Department, said the case was closed based on a resolution between Mayo and the Assembly.
Indeed, the state controller's office last month released a September, 1993, letter from the legislative counsel's office to the Rules Committee authorizing the payment.
"Please have a warrant drawn payable to Brenda Sue Mayo in the amount of $10,000 in settlement of the above case. . . . We would like to close this settlement as soon as possible," according to the letter.
A spokeswoman for Assemblyman Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), who was Speaker at the time of the settlement, said Monday that, while he may have known about the Harvey matter, he "really had no hands-on" role in the settlement.
When The Times recently asked to look at legislative documents in the Harvey case, Assembly Rules Committee Chief Counsel Nina M. Ryan said: "I am informed and believe that there are no such records."
The complaint by Mayo is believed to have been among the first formal sexual harassment accusations filed against an Assembly member under a legislative policy promulgated a few years ago.
Disclosure of the settlement comes against the backdrop of mounting public awareness of sexual harassment cases in the Assembly and questions about the way such matters were resolved under the tenure of former Speaker Brown.
Earlier this fall, according to the state controller's office, a former Assembly employee was paid $59,500 to settle a complaint in which she contended that John Barry Wyatt, then a top aide to former Assemblyman Rusty Areias (D-San Jose), made "unwelcome sexual advances."
Lawyers for the Assembly Rules Committee settled the suit against Wyatt in October, about the time he was named director of field operations for Brown's campaign for mayor of San Francisco. In a statement, Brown said that as Speaker the "Assembly adopted a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment."
But now, Rules Committee Chairman Fred Aguiar (R-Chino) is calling for a review of the way the cases were disposed. To his chagrin, Aguiar recently said, he "was totally unaware of the settlement of the lawsuit" involving Wyatt, but that it was approved by Speaker Brian Setencich (R-Fresno).
Emma Suarez, Setencich's press secretary, confirmed that the Speaker signed off on the settlement on the advice of the Assembly's lawyers that "it would cost more to fight this." She said Setencich would "not tolerate any sexual harassment or discrimination."
As an outgrowth of the Wyatt matter, Aguiar said, his committee "should be involved or at least notified," and he plans to put the issue on a future agenda of his panel.