LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — A California state senator suspended amid a sexual misconduct allegation sued the Legislature for reinstatement this week, arguing he’s being treated differently than his white colleague.
After pressure from colleagues, Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), who represents Southeastern Los Angeles County, went on voluntary leave after he was accused of acting inappropriately toward three young women who worked for him and firing another staffer who reported one of the instances. His suspension was extended last month because an investigation into misconduct hadn’t concluded before he was expected to return from leave.
The lawsuit notes that Mendoza, who is Latino, has been suspended but Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg, who is white, has not been asked to step aside despite also facing sexual misconduct allegations.
A former Assembly speaker, Hertzberg is under investigation for allegations he made at least three female colleagues uncomfortable with hugs. Documents released by the Legislature on Feb. 2 also show he was formally investigated in 2015 when a staff member complained he began dancing with her in his office, making her uncomfortable.
On Friday, the Senate Rules Committee announced it had received the results of the investigation into Mendoza’s behavior and will decide next Tuesday, Feb. 20, whether to give Mendoza formal disciplinary proceedings. The findings of the investigation on Mendoza have not been made public but were presented to the rules panel in a closed-door meeting. When it concluded, the five-member committee said it will decide Tuesday whether to recommend discipline, and if so will share the findings with all senators.
Mendoza could be censured, suspended, expelled or face no discipline.
Mendoza has denied retaliating or behaving inappropriately and said in the lawsuit that no one has accused him of “any inappropriate bodily contact, propositions or threats.”
Hertzberg and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Democrat and Mendoza’s former housemate, didn’t comment on the charges.
The allegations against Mendoza date back to 2008 and include inviting a young woman to his home and offering another alcohol when she was underage. Some of the incidents happened when he was in the Assembly.
In November, around the time the allegations against Mendoza surfaced, the California Senate Rules Committee announced new rules on how sexual assault allegations within the Legislature would be handled. The committee said it would no longer be handling the complaints itself, but instead would bring in an independent outside legal team to investigate.
The move came after the committee was accused of retaliating against whistle-blowers. A lawyer for a former Mendoza staffer says her client and two others were fired after they complained to the Senate Rules Committee that Mendoza was acting inappropriately. The Senate Rules Committee has denied the allegations.
Mendoza’s suit argues he has never been told what exactly is under investigation and is being denied due process while his constituents lose out on representation in Sacramento. Roger Bagne, one of Mendoza’s constituents, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The California Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to suspend a member, but the chamber voted last month to give the five-member Rules Committee the power to extend Mendoza’s leave of absence.
“It is an unconstitutional sleight-of-hand where attacks on one senator are used to hide other more serious allegations and offenders from public view,” the lawsuit alleges.
Mendoza is the only lawmaker who has been suspended since allegations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol broke open last fall. Two assemblymen voluntarily resigned, and their seats haven’t been filed. Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia took a voluntary leave of absence last Friday.
News of Mendoza’s lawsuit came just hours after a legislative panel met about revamping policies involving sexual misconduct. The public’s right to know if their lawmakers have engaged in sexual misconduct was the chief topic of discussion.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)