By Katy Murphy
Originally published by MercuryNews
SACRAMENTO — The controversy surrounding sexual harassment in the state Capitol deepened on Friday and threatened to ensnare one of the Legislature’s leading Democrats, Kevin de León, as questions swirled over when the Senate leader became aware of complaints against his weekday roommate.
The plot thickened after a lawyer for a fired Senate staffer told Capital Public Radio that her client and two other employees were handed termination letters in the same meeting in which they detailed inappropriate behavior by their boss, Sen. Tony Mendoza, toward a young female intern.
The attorney’s account contradicted the timeline provided Thursday by De León’s office, raising questions about what the Senate leader, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, knew about the harassment allegations.
Mendoza, 46, repeatedly invited the 23-year-old woman to visit him at night at the Sacramento apartment he shared with De León and once invited her to spend the night at his hotel room at a Yolo County resort, according to Micha Star Liberty, an Oakland attorney for one of the fired staffers.
Mendoza’s alleged misbehavior was first reported Thursday by the Sacramento Bee.
The three Mendoza aides reported the harassment to Senate officials several times in September before detailing their allegations in a meeting on Sept. 22 — when they were promptly fired by being handed a letter on Rules Committee letterhead bearing De León’s name, Liberty said.
“This smacks of retaliation,” the attorney told the radio station.
The secretary of the Senate, Daniel Alvarez, on Thursday painted a very different picture of events, saying that the employees were fired before the harassment complaint against Mendoza was made. He argued that there was “no connection” between the staffers’ allegations and their termination.
“Senate Rules take any allegation of inappropriate workplace behavior extremely seriously – and this is no different,” Alvarez said in a statement provided by De León’s office. “These allegations are being rigorously reviewed and investigated consistent with our legal process, employment standards and privacy protections – and has been for months.”
Mendoza said on Thursday that he would never knowingly abuse his authority, but didn’t address whether he had ever invited the young intern to his apartment.
“If I ever communicated or miscommunicated anything that made an employee feel uncomfortable, I apologize,” he said in a statement issued to this news organization.
A spokesman for De León told the Associated Press Thursday that the Senate leader did not know about the allegations against Mendoza or the investigation into his colleague.
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UPDATE – As reported in the WashingtonTimes
A second woman is accusing a California state lawmaker of misconduct in 2008 when she was a 19-year-old intern in his district office.
The Sacramento Bee reported Saturday night that the woman, Jennifer Kwart, came forward after reports this week of Democratic Sen. Tony Mendoza being under investigation for sexual harassment of a female employee.
A Mendoza spokesman said the latest allegations were “completely false.”
Now 28, Kwart told the Bee that at the party’s 2008 convention, Mendoza made her feel uncomfortable when he asked her about ex-boyfriends and her personal life while the two were alone in his hotel suite.
Later Mendoza introduced her to two state lawmakers and their side glances bothered her. Kwart said “I had this overwhelming feeling that they knew about me.” That night she called her mother, who booked a flight to return home to Los Angeles the next day.