A California assemblywoman who has been a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement and was featured in Time magazine’s “Silence Breakers” feature is being investigated for sexual misconduct.
In the wake of the allegations, which surfaced Thursday in a Politico article, Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia said she will take an “immediate unpaid leave” from her position in the state Assembly.
Two men have accused Garcia of sexually harassing and groping them.
Daniel Fierro, a former staffer to Democratic Assemblyman Ian Calderon, said that in 2014 Garcia cornered him after an Assembly softball game in Sacramento and grabbed his buttocks and attempted to touch his crotch.
Another man, a Sacramento lobbyist who remained anonymous, said Garcia sexually propositioned him and attempted to grab his crotch during a political fundraiser in May 2017.
Both men said the assemblywoman appeared to be heavily intoxicated when the alleged incidents occurred.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, said the Assembly is taking the men’s claims seriously and has hired an outside firm to investigate the allegations.
“I trust that while the investigation proceeds Assemblymember Garcia will respond appropriately and in a way that fortifies the Legislature’s effort to create a new climate,” Rendon said in a statement. “As in other cases, while the investigation moves forward, I am also asking Assembly Human Resources to reach out to Assemblymember Garcia’s staff to ensure they feel safe in their work environment.”
Garcia, who chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus and has spoken out about her own experiences of sexual harassment in the state Capitol, has categorically denied the allegations.
“Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of,” she said in a statement. “However, as I’ve said before, any claims about sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard of accountability.”
Garcia said she had decided to voluntarily take an unpaid leave of absence from the Assembly and her committee assignments, noting that she didn’t wish to be “a distraction or in any way influence the process of this investigation.”
“I implore the Assembly Rules Committee to conduct a thorough and expeditious investigation, and I look forward to getting back to work on behalf of my constituents and for the betterment of California,” Garcia added.
The allegations against Garcia emerged in the wake of a nationwide movement to call out sexual harassment and abuse by people in positions of power. In California, legislators have aimed to move quickly to respond to sexual harassment allegations after dozens of female legislators and political consultants released an open letter last year about abuses at the state Capitol.
Last week, California state legislative leaders released records on a dozen sexual harassment investigations dating back to 2006 and implicating several current and former state lawmakers.