Women who have experienced or seen sexual harassment in the Capitol are speaking out, but many fear the consequences of telling their stories. Emily Zentner The Sacramento Bee
Women who have experienced or seen sexual harassment in the Capitol are speaking out, but many fear the consequences of telling their stories. Emily Zentner The Sacramento Bee

Capitol Alert

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Capitol Alert

Third woman alleges misconduct by state Sen. Tony Mendoza

By Taryn Luna

tluna@sacbee.com

November 16, 2017 06:04 PM

UPDATED November 17, 2017 03:41 PM

A third woman is alleging that Sen. Tony Mendoza behaved inappropriately toward her when she worked in his Capitol office seven years ago.

Haley Myers said she told the Assembly in 2010 that Mendoza engaged in behavior that she considers sexual harassment when she worked as a legislative aide for him in Sacramento.

Mendoza repeatedly sent her text messages, some late at night with comments such as “thinking of you” and ending with a smiley face, she said. He singled out Myers, then 30 and married, to attend after-hours events with him, she said, including several occasions in which she found herself alone with Mendoza over drinks or dinner. She said she worried that speaking up could result in negative consequences at work.

“In the beginning, I really thought he was trying to mentor me,” Myers said. “Who doesn’t want a mentor or someone who can help me get ahead in my career? That’s not what was happening.”

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Mendoza, 46, declined this week to answer detailed questions about his interactions with Myers. But in a statement issued late Thursday, he acknowledged that the Assembly Rules Committee contacted him in 2010. He said he “made a strong commitment to correct any misunderstanding and reinforce my commitment to ensuring a friendly and professional atmosphere.”

In response to previous allegations against Mendoza, the five lawmakers on the Senate Rules Committee announced Sunday that its internal staff would no longer handle sexual harassment, abuse or assault complaints. Allegations will be investigated by an outside law firm that will publicly report its findings – names and details may be redacted – and recommendations to resolve and discipline those involved, the committee said. The Senate Rules Committee will ultimately determine the appropriate course of action.

In 2010, Myers confided in Rene Bayardo, then Mendoza’s legislative director. Bayardo said he took his professional duty to report sexual harassment to the Assembly seriously.

“The behavior Haley described to me was alarming, and as a supervisor I had a legal and ethical obligation to report it,” Bayardo said in a statement sent to The Bee.

Myers and Bayardo said they reported the behavior in September 2010. She said she was reluctant to do so because she was uncomfortable and afraid of retribution.

When reached this week, a spokesman for the Assembly would not confirm officials received Myers’ complaint in 2010, citing its practice not to comment on personnel matters.

Myers and Bayardo said an Assembly staff member agreed to tell Mendoza not to contact her in a non-professional manner and that he could not retaliate against either of them. An employee followed up with Myers afterward and described Mendoza as “perplexed and confused,” according to an email Myers wrote to a friend about the situation at the time. Myers said his inappropriate behavior stopped.

“He was the way a boss should be, professionally distant in an appropriate way,” Myers said. “He stopped asking me for these things.”

At the time, Myers said, she was upset with her co-worker for forcing her to report the experience. She said she would have preferred to address it on her own outside of the formal process, although she says she had not quite figured out how to do that.

As director of a program at Sacramento State, Myers, 37, is required to take sexual harassment training once a year and must report any incidents she becomes aware of. She said she understands in hindsight why Bayardo wanted to report it and firmly believes he did the right thing.

Her interview for a legislative aide job in early 2010 took place over a one-on-one dinner with Mendoza at Lucca, a Mediterranean restaurant on J Street in Sacramento. At the end of dinner, he said he wanted to offer her the job, according to notes Myers wrote to herself.

“I told him thank you, and I looked forward to working for him,” Myers wrote. “I stuck out my hand to shake his hand, and he hugged me instead.”

His more explicit overtures set off alarms for Myers, she said.

On one occasion, Myers got drinks with Mendoza. He dropped her off at her house afterward, got out of the car and kissed her on the cheek, according to Myers. It’s unclear whether Myers and Bayardo described this encounter when they reported the behavior.

In September 2010, Mendoza invited Myers to join him for a long weekend at a conference in Pebble Beach, she said. Myers said she was suspicious and asked for details about the work that would be expected from her on the trip. In response he said accommodations were nice and described the resort town as beautiful, she said.

She declined and mentioned that she and her husband were celebrating their anniversary.

Myers continued to work for Mendoza until he left the Assembly.

“The employee and I have had a friendly relationship since then where we have shared family, professional and personal matters in our subsequent, respective lives,” Mendoza said in Thursday’s statement. He said he recently wrote her a recommendation letter and was “happy to do so.”

Myers said over the years that she has continued to keep a professional tie to Mendoza and has asked him to provide job references. She said they are not friends.

She said she has always felt his behavior was wrong and decided to speak up again after others came forward.

“Reading those other two women’s stories, I thought oh my gosh, he’s doing it to other people,” Myers said. “If I come forward, maybe he can’t do this to other women anymore. And maybe it will have a bigger impact on the Capitol culture and shine a light on behaviors that need attention and correction.”

With an outsider’s perspective, she thinks the Capitol culture – from booze-filled parties to the response to allegations – normalizes the behavior.

“The culture is permissive towards these types of relationships and scenarios,” Myers said. “I’ve never worked in another industry where these scenarios come up so much.”

The Bee previously reported allegations that Mendoza invited a Senate fellow in his office to his home to review her résumé and others for an open position. A second woman, previously an intern in his district office, also alleged that Mendoza behaved inappropriately toward her at the California Democratic Party Convention in 2008.

Senate Secretary Danny Alvarez said in a statement that the Rules Committee began investigating allegations about the senator’s behavior toward the fellow on Sept. 22 this year.

He and a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León have declined to respond to detailed questions about how the investigation has been handled. De León, the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, has said he was not informed of complaints against Mendoza, with whom he shared a home until recently.

“Our process has been to conduct a thorough but internal investigation into complaints before reporting them to Rules Committee,” Alvarez said in a statement. “In this case, we had not yet completed our investigation which began Sept. 22, so Rules Committee members had yet to be notified.”

In his statement Thursday, Mendoza called the allegations against him “unsubstantiated,” and said he’s hopeful they will be addressed fairly and transparently by the Senate’s outside legal team.

He said the Senate Rules Committee has not provided him with any information regarding any allegation and directed him to refer all media inquiries to the committee staff members.

“This is wrong as it has allowed innuendo, smears and the settling of political scores in the media while I am constrained by the Rules Committee direction,” he said.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna