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California

Investigation supports harassment complaints against former California Capitol employee

Exterior of the California State Capitol
The California State Capitol in Sacramento.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

An investigation by the California Assembly has substantiated complaints that a former chief of staff to Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson) grabbed a Capitol employee’s buttocks and sent inappropriate text messages to another staffer, according to records released Friday.

The Assembly report states that Mark Lomeli, who worked for Gipson in 2016 when the alleged incidents occurred, violated the house’s sexual harassment policy. Lomeli appealed the findings and the Assembly Rules Committee upheld its investigation, denying the appeal July 30.

Lomeli did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Assembly does not comment on sexual harassment investigations as a standard practice.

The records disclosed Friday provide little information about the alleged encounters outlined in the complaints and some details, including the names of the women and claims that were not substantiated, are redacted. In a letter to Lomeli, the committee said that its investigator, Benjamin Webster of the law firm Littler Mendelson, interviewed more than two dozen witnesses.

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The records say that on April 12, 2018, a woman told human resources that Lomeli “grabbed [her] breasts, vagina, buttocks and pushed his penis area” on her in a sexual assault that occurred two years earlier, on May 4, 2016. The investigation determined that he “more likely than not” grabbed her buttocks, inappropriately touched her body and made unwelcome comments about her physical appearance.

The day after the first report, a second woman came forward and alleged inappropriate behavior by Lomeli, according to the Assembly Rules Committee. The investigation substantiated a claim that he sent unprofessional text messages to her on Sept. 6, 2016.

Lomeli is barred from contacting the women, according to a letter sent to him by the Assembly Rules Committee. He left Gipson’s office in early 2018 and now works in the private sector.

The case is the latest in a series of sexual harassment and assault complaints against legislative staff members and lawmakers since the #MeToo movement emerged at the state Capitol in October 2017.

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In response to an outcry from women working in California political circles, the Legislature appointed a new workplace conduct unit and panel of legal experts in January to review and investigate sexual harassment claims in the Senate and Assembly.


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