Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson denies new sexual harassment allegations

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is accused of sexually harassing a city employee; he has denied the allegations. Above, Johnson in 2012.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is accused of sexually harassing a city employee; he has denied the allegations. Above, Johnson in 2012.

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

New sexual harassment allegations have been leveled against Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who fired back Thursday, saying the claim had “absolutely no merit.”

According to the claim filed last month by Estrellita Ilee Muller, who used to work in the city manager’s office, Johnson called her into his private library in City Hall in December 2013 and gave her “an unwelcome and close hug.” He “felt along her torso” and tried to kiss her, then proposed they begin a sexual relationship even though she had pushed him away and told him she was married, it says.

When Muller declined, the claim says, Johnson told her not to decide right away, adding that he would pass by her desk in the coming weeks for her answer -- a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.


Muller complained to several city representatives and said she feared retaliation and further harassment, but the city representatives did nothing to protect her, the claim says.

According to the claim, the harassment continued. In July 2014, it says, Johnson accused Muller of avoiding him. The next month, it says, he approached Muller’s desk and asked to see her hands, then played with her thumbs.

Johnson denied all the allegations.

“The incidents described in the complaint simply never happened. Ever,” he told reporters Thursday.

The claim said Muller transferred to the city’s Human Resources Department and turned down a city job “with higher pay and flexibility” to avoid the mayor.

Muller is seeking $200,000, citing “severe and extended physical, mental and emotional distress; medical expenses; lost wages and additional out-of-pocket loss.”

The allegations were brought to the city’s attention “weeks before the 2014 November election,” Johnson told reporters Thursday.


He said the city performed an internal investigation, then hired outside counsel to review the evidence collected in the investigation, and determined twice that the allegations were unsubstantiated.

Johnson has faced allegations of sexual misconduct in the past.

Early in his 2008 mayoral campaign, the Sacramento Bee detailed a draft agreement that had Johnson paying a $230,000 settlement to a 16-year-old Phoenix girl he had mentored in the mid-1990s. She told police he fondled her. He had denied it.

A federal inspector general’s report cited other allegations of sexual misconduct. One case alleged that Johnson had inappropriately touched a Sacramento high school senior. Although the girl later denied the story, the federal report detailed similar allegations about advances toward two young women involved in an inner-city program.

Investigations were conducted in Sacramento and Phoenix. No charges were filed.

Johnson, a former NBA player who grew up in Sacramento, gained acclaim in 2013 for his successful effort to keep the Sacramento Kings basketball team from leaving town. The mayor married Michelle Rhee, a former chancellor of public schools in Washington, D.C., in 2011.

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