May 26, 2020
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Complaint: Lawmaker who led #MeToo push invited staffer to play spin the bottle

Rich Pedroncelli | AP
Rich Pedroncelli | AP
In this June 22, 2016, file photo, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, speaks at the Capitol in Sacramento, California. Garcia, the former head of the California Legislative Women's Caucus and a leading figure in the anti-sexual harassment movement is facing fresh allegations of misconduct in her office just days after she took a leave of absence amid an investigation into alleged groping.

California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, one of the leading voices behind the #MeToo movement, is facing accusations that she sexually harassed staffers – including one who said she fired him after he refused to play a game of spin the bottle with her.

David John Kernick, a former field representative for Garcia, said that the Democratic lawmaker from Bell Gardens, California, approached him after a fundraiser at a whiskey bar in 2014 and suggested that they play spin the bottle in her hotel room, according to a complaint filed Saturday with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Kernick said he was written up for insubordination after he questioned the appropriateness of Garcia’s suggestion and was fired two days later.

The complaint also says that Kernick’s time working for Garcia was “extremely stressful.”

“Ms. Garcia was very disparaging to the staff and others, used vulgar language, discussed topics inappropriate for the workplace and showed herself to be very vindictive in nature,” the complaint says.

Kernick’s complaint is the latest allegation of sexual misconduct against Garcia, who has taken a voluntary unpaid leave.

Another former staffer, Daniel Fierro, told The Washington Post’s Derek Hawkins that Garcia approached him after an assembly softball game in 2014, squeezed his buttocks and tried to touch his crotch. He said Garcia was visibly intoxicated.

Fierro, who was 25 at the time, did not report the incident because he worried about the long-term consequences of accusing the powerful lawmaker, who chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus and the Natural Resources Committee, of misconduct. But in January he told his former boss, state Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, who referred the matter to an assembly panel that is now investigating Garcia.

Politico was the first to report on the allegations earlier this month. In a statement Feb. 9, the day after the Politico story was published, Garcia said she is “certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of.”

“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.

On Wednesday, San Diego attorney Dan Gilleon unveiled new sexual harassment allegations from four anonymous former staffers during a news conference on the steps of the state capitol in Sacramento, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The former staffers alleged that Garcia talked about her sex life in front of employees, drank alcohol at work and told staffers that they were expendable, Gilleon told The Post. One of those anonymous staffers was Kernick. Gilleon said his clients decided to come forward after Fierro went public with his allegations. He also said he is prepared to take legal action against any retaliation against his client.

“They decided to come out not for themselves . . . but also to let everybody know what it was really like working for her,” Gilleon said. “Had Fierro not come out, my clients would not have talked.”

In a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday, Garcia said that she “will address each of these issues individually after the investigations into these allegations are closed.”

She further wrote: “I will add that in order for legislators to accomplish all we want for the people of our districts and the people of California, we need talented staff who feel empowered to do their work . . . I am confident I have consistently treated my staff fairly and respectfully.”

Garcia’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, but Tim Reardon, the legislator’s former chief of staff, told the Bee that Kernick’s accusations were a “complete falsehood.” Reardon said Kernick was fired because he wasn’t doing his job.

“It’s like a malicious, really bizarre alternate universe built on a lot of innuendo and lies solely to destroy the character of Assemblywoman Garcia,” Reardon said of all the allegations against his former boss.

Elected in 2012, Garcia has made women’s issues among her legislative priorities and introduced legislation that would repeal a state tax on feminine health products. Following the outrage after a judge handed down a six-month prison sentence to a college swimmer who had sexually assaulted an unconscious woman on campus, Garcia co-authored a bill that expanded the legal definition of rape to include all forms of nonconsensual sexual assault.

The allegations against Garcia come as she is playing a more prominent role in the #MeToo movement. A few days before Politico reported on Fierro’s allegations, Garcia celebrated the passage of a California law that would penalize a lawmaker who retaliates against a staffer for making a “good faith allegation.” This includes allegations of sexual harassment.

Garcia was also among the dozens of “silence breakers” featured by Time magazine in December. “The Silence Breakers,” or those who spoke out against sexual assault and harassment, are Time’s Person of the Year for 2017.

“I didn’t know I was part of the story. That I was pictured and added to a timeline of this reckoning. It’s an awkwardly humbling experience, but I am proud of this work and the company I am in,” Garcia tweeted in response to her inclusion. She used the hashtags #MeToo and #WeSaidEnough.

Garcia also was a strong critic of male colleagues who had been accused of sexual misconduct.

“I believe the victims who’ve broken their silence on the actions of Mendoza & Dababneh,” Garcia tweeted in December, referring to state Sen. Tony Mendoza and Assemblyman Matt Dababneh. “They have nothing to gain and everything to loose. Let alone it’s multiple victims who’ve come forward. Both members should resign.”

Mendoza, D-Artesia, was accused of making sexual advances toward three interns. Dababneh, D-Encino, who has since resigned, was accused of sexually assaulting a lobbyist.

Derek Hawkins contributed to this story.

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