Working among California lawmakers doesn't necessarily protect people from being the victim of illegal workplace actions. Within the past decade, both houses of the California legislature have settled several sexual harassment suits with former employees for six-figure amounts.
A recent settlement (and one of the largest) involves a former legislative aide to a state senator from Fremont. The woman says she was fired after she reported a sexual assault by a staff member who worked in the Assembly.
That assault allegedly happened after an evening spent with coworkers in Sacramento back in 2016, The legislative aide said she reported the assault to law enforcement and both the state Senate and Assembly. An internal investigation reportedly didn't substantiate her claim, and the accused staffer -- who no longer works in the legislature -- wasn't charged with a crime. He claimed that he was innocent.
However, the woman reportedly was fired the following year in retaliation for reporting the assault and for taking some time off following it. She claimed to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks and depression. She says her employers denied her requests to forbid her alleged attacker from being on the Senate floor or to use the same parking garage as she did.
Last November, the California Senate agreed to pay the aide $280,000 for lost wages as well as damages. They paid another $50,000 towards her school loans and $20,000 for career counseling and medical care. In return, she dropped her lawsuit. The money for the settlement came from the Senate's operating budget, which is funded by Californians' tax dollars.
The woman's attorney says, "It's important for not only this plaintiff, but anyone working in the Capitol building, to know that the Senate can and should take full responsibility of its unlawful conduct. We believe this settlement proves that point."
It can seem daunting to go up against powerful employers -- whether they own a large corporation or are in control of part of our state government. However, if you've been the victim of harassment, discrimination, retaliation and/or wrongful termination, you can explore your legal options for seeking the compensation and justice you deserve.