Tuple Legal is California’s only political research law firm. Tuple occasionally publishes memos on matters of public interest, like this one. By Ryan Hughes (contact).

The renewed attention to sexual harassment in the State Capitol1 includes scrutiny of settlements made by the California Legislature for harassment. Reports on those settlements have been wildly inconsistent, to the point where media outlets widely disagree on even the total sum of payments.2 3 4

Tuple Legal obtained and reviewed settlement records, court filings, historical news reports, and other documents to compile a database of the Legislature’s sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and gender discrimination settlements from the past 25 years.

This memo has two purposes:

  1. It details all known settlements from the past 25 years. It is meant to serve as a resource for victims of sexual harassment in the Capitol to make informed decisions on how to proceed. (If you are reading for that purpose, I would advise you to consult a reputable employment law attorney before taking any other steps–especially before filing a report with your Rules Committee. Attorney consultations are often free.)
  2. It presents new findings about the scope and handling of the Legislature’s sexual harassment settlements.

This memo does not account for the thousands of sexual harassment incidents in the State Capitol that have gone unreported. Nor does it account for complaints of harassment that did not result in a settlement. It only accounts for those incidents that resulted in a formal settlement.

Key Findings

Settlement Amounts

The Legislature has paid out at least $1.9 million for sexual harassment complaints in the past 25 years. In 2017 dollars, the amount is $2.8 million.5

In many cases it is not possible to verify that employees’ settlements involved claims of sexual harassment; they may have or may not have. In those uncertain cases, the Legislature paid out $306,000 over the past 25 years. In 2017 dollars, the amount is $360,000.

“No-reemployment” Clauses May Be Particularly Burdensome to Capitol Victims

Many of the settlement agreements Tuple Legal obtained contain a “no-reemployment” clause, which prevents victims from seeking employment with the Senate or Assembly in the future. Attorneys include those clauses in employee settlement agreements to keep disgruntled employees from obtaining settlements, subsequently reapplying for hire, and making a second claim against the employer for misconduct in the later employment application. (Though, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has called validity of those clauses into question.6)

Use of no-reemployment clauses may be appropriate in some employee separation agreements, but routine use of them for sexual harassment victims in the Capitol may be particularly burdensome to the victims. Employment positions in the Senate and Assembly represent a large portion of state-level political and policy jobs. Being banned from one of the chambers creates a significant disadvantage for political and policy staffers who endure sexual harassment.

Confidentiality Clauses Are Not Worth the Paper on Which They Are Printed

Many of the Legislature’s settlement agreements contain confidentiality clauses that purportedly bind legislative houses and aggrieved employees from disclosing the terms of a settlement. These clauses provide very little actual confidentiality.

The Legislative Open Records Act does not protect settlement agreements from public disclosure.7 Any member of the public may request and receive a copy of them. The only redactions in disclosed files are for signatures–not employee names. That is how reporters most often obtain and write stories about settlements. Settlements can generate media coverage of employees even in cases where reporters only know that an employee received a settlement–and no information as to why.8 As noted in the next section, settlements rarely name alleged perpetrators, thereby leaving only victims’ names in media reports.9

Including Only Limited Details in Settlement Agreements Shields Harassers from Scrutiny, Making the Legislature Complicit in Sexual Harassment Behavior

While the Legislature must disclose settlement agreements, it is not required to disclose details of sexual harassment investigations.10 Knowing that settlement agreements will be public–but not files pertaining to sexual harassment investigations–the Legislature routinely includes as few details as possible in settlement agreements. The agreements typically do not list the nature of complaints made by employees, nor the persons against whom complaints are lodged. At their essence, the Legislature’s settlement agreements only say: 1) an employee claims some type of workplace misconduct occurred, 2) the Legislature denies any misconduct occurred, but 3) the two sides will settle the matter for a sum of money.

This practice effectively shields offenders from scrutiny unless details of a given matter are leaked to the media or filed with another governmental agency 11 In other words, our Legislature is doing what it can to actively hide harassers.

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Legislature Payouts and Settlement Terms

Verified Instances of Sex Discrimination Claims

This table includes all known instances of employee settlements that involved a claim for sexual harassment. Use the plus icon (+) to view detailed information on a given settlement, including gag clauses12, no-reemployment clauses, information on whether an employee was moved to another office in the Capitol, and attorney fees.

MoreYearHouseComplaint AgainstTotal Amount (Known)Total Amount (2017 Dollars)DetailsGag ClauseNo-remployment ClauseEmployment ShuffleAwardBack PayAttorney FeesOther Amounts or ArrangementsSources
Total$1,944,112 $2,753,688
2017SenateBob Phelan and Patricia O'Brien$89,500 $89,500 Employee claimed he "experienced and was forced to tolerate offensive and unprofessional racist, sexist, and homophobic comments and biases."Terms ConfidentialNoNo$89,500 $0$0$0Settlement Agreement; Koseff, California Senate paid $89,500 to employee fired after argument over Colin Kaepernick, Sac. Bee (Oct. 31, 2017)
2017AssemblySteve Fox (D)$100,000 $100,000 Employee alleged that Fox once indecently exposed himself to her, when she went to his apartment to bring him to a required Assembly session.NoNoNo$23,450 $11,550 $65,000 $0Settlement Agreement; Koseff, Harassment claim against California legislator cost taxpayers $100,000, Sac. Bee (Oct, 18, 2017)
2015AssemblySteve Fox (D)$110,000 $115,937 Employee alleged Fox made inappropriate sexual comments.No DisparagementYesNo$99,000 $11,000 $0$0Settlement Agreement; California Assembly settles unpaid work lawsuit for $110,000, Associated Press (Aug. 8, 2015); Chirbas, Assembly settles pay lawsuit against former member, L.A. Times (Aug. 7, 2015)
2010SenateRod Wright (D)$120,000 $139,139 Employee claimed "The environment in Sen. Roderick Wright's office is beyond anything anyone would expect of a public official or even any employer in the 20th century... It is totally intolerable towards women and certainly black women."No PublicityNoTo "Another Senate Office"$120,000 $0$0$0Settlement Agreement; Van Oot, California Senate pays sexual harassment claim against Rod Wright, Sac. Bee (Dec. 17, 2011).
2009SenateShawn Kim and Tammy Tran$51,600 $60,580 Employee claimed she was subjected to multiple instances of sexually harassing conduct, behavior by a co-worker, including statements about her appearance, pregnancy, and calling her a "stupid fucking bitch." She maintains her complaints were ignored by her boss, who said, "That's just Shawn being Shawn."NoYesNo$51,600 $0$0$0Settlement Agreement; Plaintiff's Complaint for Damages
2008AssemblyUnknown$0$0Employee claimed in court filings she was the subject of sexual harassment, but settled for $0. Settlement agreement indicates that employee's release of claims was in exchange for Assembly not seeking attorneys' fees against employee.NoYesNo$0$0$0$0Settlement Agreement; Sacramento County Court Records
2005AssemblyRebecca Cohn (D)$48,943 $63,561 Employee accused Cohn of creating an uncomfortable workplace by, among other things, talking explicitly about her sex life, wearing inappropriate clothing, and asking the employee to hold her undergarments during a photo shoot for San Jose Magazine.UnknownUnknownUnknown$33,943 Unknown$15,000 UnknownVogel, Assembly Pays Aide $50,000 to Settle Complaint, L.A. Times (Jan. 8, 2005)
2003AssemblyJon Waldie$540,000 $746,216 Employee maintained she was harassed for breast-feeding her baby at work.UnknownUnknownUnknown$540,000 UnknownUnknownUnknownSanchez, Woman settles Capitol lawsuit, Sac. Bee (Mar. 7, 2003).
2000AssemblyLou Papan (D) and Luke Breit$140,000 $210,729 Employee claimed her supervisor tried to kiss her when they were discussing a pay raise and kept putting his arms around her. She also said that at a charity golf tournament Lou Papan kept asking her to stand on a table and take off her sweater.UnknownUnknownUnknown$140,000 UnknownUnknownUnknownMorrison, More Psychic Than Miss Cleo--at Least on Enron, L.A. Times (Feb. 1, 2002); Whitney, Papan named in sexual harassment complaint, San Mateo County Times (Jan. 23, 2002)
1998SenateRichard Polanco (D)$113,669 $182,696 Employee alleged that she had been transferred from her job for refusing to "respond to Polanco's advances."Terms ConfidentialYes, Four YearsNo$102,500 $4,085 $0$7,083 Settlement Agreement; Ingram, Women's Group Demands Polanco's Removal From Post, L.A. Times (Mar. 28, 2001)
1997AssemblyMickey Conroy (R) and Pete Conaty$360,900 $591,629 Employee claimed that, "If we were in a hotel for a fund-raiser, [Conroy] would consistently make comments such as, he did not know if he should make one hotel room reservation or two, since he had two women with him."UnknownUnknownTo "a dead-end clerical job in the Assembly after an Assembly Rules Committee investigation found Conroy in violation of Assembly policy on sexual harassment"$360,900 UnknownUnknownUnknownKatches, Conroy accuser to get $ 360,900, Orange County Register (Jul. 18, 1997); Bancroft, Aide Tells of Capitol Kisses, S.F. Chronicle (Aug. 24, 1994).
1996AssemblyTom Connolly (D)$100,000 $167,480 Employee (first victim) sued for sexual harassment. Abuser was later convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old girl.UnknownUnknownUnknown$100,000 UnknownUnknownUnknownLucas, Assembly to Settle Sex Harassment Suit, S.F. Chronicle (Jan. 4, 1996); Times Staff Writer, Ex-Lawmaker Sentenced for Having Sex With Girl, L.A. Times (July 4, 1997)
1996AssemblyTom Connolly (D)$100,000 $167,480 Employee (second victim) sued for sexual harassment. Abuser was later convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old girl.UnknownUnknownUnknown$100,000 UnknownUnknownUnknownLucas, Assembly to Settle Sex Harassment Suit, S.F. Chronicle (Jan. 4, 1996); Times Staff Writer, Ex-Lawmaker Sentenced for Having Sex With Girl, L.A. Times (July 4, 1997)
1995AssemblyHarvey Trice (R)$10,000 $17,085 Employee complained that over a two-year period she was the target of vulgar sexual remarksUnknownUnknownUnknown$10,000 UnknownUnknownUnknownGladstone, Assembly Paid $10,000 to Settle Harassment Case, L.A. Times (Nov. 14, 1995)
1995AssemblyRusty Areias (D) and John Barry Wyatt$59,500 $101,656 Employee claimed her office's chief of staff subjected her "to continued unwelcomed sexual advances," which she rejected. She alleged that the chief of staff sought to touch her in an inappropriate manner, yelled at her in public using obscene terms, and described his own sexual exploits. She also claimed that Areias "ignored sexual harassment complaints she lodged against his chief of staff and that [he] later threatened her with the loss of her job if she pursued the charges."UnknownUnknownUnknown$59,500 UnknownUnknownUnknownLucas, 4 Women Say State Assembly Covers Up Harassment, S.F. Chronicle (Nov. 3, 1995); Gladstone, Sex Harassment Suit Names Areias, Chief Aide, L.A. Times (Aug. 28, 1994)

 

Unverified Instances of Sex Discrimination Claims

This table lists details of employee settlement agreements that may or may not have included elements of sexual harassment. The records available are not complete enough to conclude one way or the other.

MoreYearHouseComplaint AgainstTotal Amount (Known)Total Amount (2017 Dollars)DetailsGag ClauseNo-remployment ClauseEmployment ShuffleAwardBack PayAttorney FeesOther Amounts or ArrangementsSources
Total$306,484 $360,030
2017SenateUnknown$4,500 $4,500 UnknownTerms ConfidentialYesNo$3,500 $0$1,000 $0Settlement Agreement
2015SenateUnknown$45,084 $47,517 UnknownNo DisparagementNoTo GOP Caucus$25,000 $7,128 $12,500 $456Settlement Agreement
2014SenateUnknown$85,400 $91,319 Reports of employee being fired for nepotism.NoYesNo$85,400 $0$0One month paySettlement Agreement; Rosenhall, Dina Hidalgo retires from California Senate after nepotism complaints, Sac. Bee (Sept. 23, 2014); Editorial Board, Senate should release Dina Hidalgo report details, sordid and otherwise, Sac. Bee, (Sept. 25, 2014);
2011SenateUnknown$89,500 $101,096 Type of harassment sustained unknown.NoYesNo$89,500 $0$0$0Settlement Agreement; McGreevy, Harassment claim against legislator settled in secret, records show, L.A. Times (Dec. 16, 2011)
2007SenateUnknown$0$0UnknownNoYesNo$0$0$0Three months paySettlement Agreement
2007SenateUnknown$0$0UnknownNoYesNo$0$0$014 weeks paySettlement Agreement
2007SenateUnknown$45,000 $54,456 UnknownTerms ConfidentialYesNo$45,000 $0Plaintiff's share of mediation costs$0Settlement Agreement
1997SenateDon Sweat$32,000 $52,458 UnknownNoNoYes, Unspecified$25,000 $0$7,000 $0Settlement Agreement
1994SenateCliff Berg$5,000 $8,684 UnknownTerms ConfidentialNoNo$5,000 $0$0$0Settlement Agreement

Changes

Dec. 6, 2017: Edited claim against Rusty Areias (D) and John Barry Wyatt for clarification that harassment charges were leveled against Wyatt.

  1. Following accusations of lurid sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo movement, and Sacramento’s We Said Enough open letter.
  2. Myers, The Times asked the California Legislature about sexual harassment. Here’s what we learned — and what we still don’t know, L.A. Times (Nov. 11, 2017) (at least $250,000 since 2006).
  3. Ronayne, Harassment, Racism Settlements Cost Legislature $580K Since 2012, Associated Press (Nov. 1, 2017) ($580,000 since 2012)
  4. Koseff, Harassment claim against California legislator cost taxpayers $100,000, Sac. Bee (Oct. 18, 2017) ($850,000 in the past two decades).
  5. Calculated by adjusting each settlement amount using the California Consumer Price Index.
  6. See Golden v. Cal. Emergency Physicians Med. Group (9th Cir. 2015) 782 F.3d 1083.
  7. Cal. Govt. Code § 9075 (no applicable exceptions to disclosure).
  8. See McGreevy, Harassment claim against legislator settled in secret, records show (Dec. 12, 2011) (L.A. Times describing $89,500 settlement for which it had no details); see also Ronayne, Harassment, Racism Settlements Cost Legislature $580K Since 2012, Associated Press (Nov. 1, 2017) (Associated Press describing $3,500 settlement for which it had no details).
  9. Id.
  10. Cal. Govt. Code § 9075(k).
  11. Such as the Dept. Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the courts.
  12. Clauses making the terms of the agreement confidential or requiring “non-disparagement.”