SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – A California lawmaker suspended amid a sexual misconduct investigation sued the state Senate on Thursday, seeking reinstatement and arguing he’s been unfairly treated by his colleagues.
The lawsuit by Democratic Sen. Tony Mendoza of Artesia marked yet another twist in the California Legislature’s increasingly dramatic sexual harassment scandal.
Two lawmakers have resigned, while a prominent Democratic assemblywoman is on a voluntary leave amid accusations of groping.
Mendoza was suspended by the Senate Rules Committee in late January – days before he was set to return from a voluntary leave of absence – because the investigation had not yet concluded.
His lawsuit alleges the suspension was unconstitutional because it deprived him of due process and his constituents of representation in Sacramento. He says he has never been told the full scope of the investigation and is being used as a scapegoat while other lawmakers facing misconduct accusations skate by.
“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.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Democrat and a former housemate of Mendoza, did not immediately comment.
Mendoza has been accused of acting inappropriately toward three young women who worked for him dating back to 2008. The allegations include inviting a young woman to his home and offering another alcohol when she was underage.
One of his former staff members, Adriana Ruelas, filed a discrimination complaint with the state alleging she was fired last year for complaining about Mendoza’s behavior toward one of the women.
Mendoza has denied retaliation or behaving inappropriately and said in the lawsuit that no one has accused him of “any inappropriate bodily contact, propositions or threats.”
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, while Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia took a voluntary leave of absence last Friday.
Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg, who has been accused of uncomfortable hugging, has not stepped aside or been widely admonished by his colleagues. Mendoza referenced that in his lawsuit, noting that Hertzberg is Caucasian.
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.
“The public pays our salary, the public pays the settlements, the public has the absolute right to know what it is we’re doing,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes of Grand Terrace.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.