More than a year after the #MeToo movement rocked the Capitol, the California Legislature on Friday announced several appointments to a new workplace conduct unit and panel of legal experts to review and investigate sexual harassment claims in the Senate and Assembly.
Legislative leaders hailed the unit, which will work independently within the Legislative Counsel’s Office, as a “national first” expected to provide more worker protections than any state Legislature in the country.
“Last year we made a commitment to our Capitol community that action must be taken and it is my hope that today marks a big step in achieving the trust of our legislative employees,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said.
Beginning in October 2017, the #MeToo movement in Sacramento unearthed a wave of misconduct allegations in the Capitol that led to the resignations of several state legislators accused of sexual harassment.
The Legislature formed a bicameral committee of lawmakers last year to determine the best way to reform the culture in the Capitol, protect alleged victims of harassment and independently investigate claims. In June, the committee proposed sweeping changes, which included the new unit and panel of legal experts.
Legislative leaders said Friday that Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine independently selected Julia V. Johnson, a former attorney at the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and an administrative law judge for the State Personnel Board, to serve as executive director of the workplace conduct unit. The unit will accept reports of misconduct in the Senate and Assembly, independently investigate the claims and draft a summary of the evidence for the panel’s review. Johnson will receive a salary of $173,00 a year, said Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for Atkins.
After the unit completes an investigation, three of the five panelists will be chosen to review the findings and recommend appropriate responses for the Assembly or Senate. Each panelist will be paid up to $100,000 a year, depending on hours worked, Lopez said.
The Assembly appointed Connie Broussard, a 15-year veteran of the California attorney general’s office who now heads her own law firm, and the Senate tapped Vicki Laden, a labor and employment law attorney who manages the whistleblower program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as panelists.
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye appointed three additional panelists: Linda Foy, an attorney who previously worked at the Judicial Council of California; Crystal Miller-O’Brien, a lawyer for a national human resources firm; and Fred Plevin, managing partner of Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton LLP.
The appointments came days after the Assembly released the findings of an investigation that determined former Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) likely made an unwanted sexual advance toward a female Capitol staffer two years ago and made another employee uncomfortable. Ridley-Thomas, who denied the allegations, resigned in December 2017, saying his departure was due to health issues.
Legislative leaders said they will continue to release the findings of substantiated misconduct claims against lawmakers and senior legislative employees. The workplace conduct unit and panel will begin on Feb. 1.