California Assemblywoman and #MeToo advocate Cristina Garcia now finds herself the subject of an investigation that she allegedly harassed and groped a former legislative staffer. Veuer's Chandra Lanier has the story. Buzz60
California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, announced Friday she is "voluntarily taking an immediate unpaid leave" of absence, a day after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against her.
Politico reported Thursday that two men had accused the Democratic head of the state's Legislative Women's Caucus of inappropriate behavior.
Daniel Fierro said that a visibly intoxicated Garcia grabbed his buttocks and tried to grab his crotch after a 2014 softball game when he was a 25-year-old staffer for Assemblyman Ian Calderon.
A "prominent Sacramento lobbyist" who wished to remain anonymous also told Politico that Garcia made an unwelcome sexual advance. The lobbyist told the political news site that Garcia "cornered him, made a graphic sexual proposal, and tried to grab his crotch at a political fundraiser" in May 2017.
Like Fierro, the lobbyist said Garcia appeared drunk when the incident took place.
Garcia denied the allegations but said she is stepping aside "so as not to serve as a distraction."
"Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of," Garcia 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 asked the state's Assembly Rules Committee to conduct a quick but thorough investigation.
"I look forward to getting back to work on behalf of my constituents and for the betterment of California," she said.
Fierro didn't report the alleged incident at the time, but in January told his former boss, Democratic Assemblyman Ian Calderon, who reported it to Assembly leaders. The Assembly is now investigating Garcia.
"If the person leading the charge on it isn't credible it just ends up hurting the credibility of these very real stories," Fierro told the Associated Press.
Garcia, who was first elected in 2012, was a fierce advocate for legislation signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown, giving legislative staff members whistleblower protections for reporting sexual misconduct or other misbehavior.
Garcia's photo was featured in Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" issue on being one of the "Silence Breakers" on sexual harassment.
When her fellow members of the California Assembly have been accused of harassment, Garcia has said she will not work with people who engage in abusive behavior.
In a November Garcia told the AP that blaming alcohol isn't an acceptable excuse for sexually inappropriate behavior for lawmakers who attend fundraisers where drinking is common. It's men who chose to misbehave, not the social events themselves, that create the problems, she said.
"I would say that most of the public realizes that our job is based on relationships, and so we are expected to go out there and socialize," she said. "I think our public also expects us to hold ourselves to a higher standard."
Contributing: Associated Press