A California state lawmaker who has been active in the ongoing effort to expose sexual misconduct in the workplace is now facing her own harassment charges.
One of Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia’s former staffers shared in a recent Politico interview the behavior he said led him to file a formal complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Garcia, 40, made a name for herself in the burgeoning “Me Too” campaign last year, signing a letter with hundreds of local women in protest of harassment and earning a spot in a Time cover story honoring the “Silence Breakers” within the movement.
According to 38-year-old David John Kernick’s account, the incident that ended his five-month tenure working for Garcia in 2014 came after a night of heavy drinking following a fundraising event.
He said the assemblywoman attempted to convince several people in her hotel room to play “spin the bottle,” a party game intended to result in participants kissing one another.
Several in attendance were “definitely uncomfortable” following her proposal, Kernick said, though the impact soon faded due to what he described as a gender-based double standard.
“But I realized it’s different for a man than for a woman,” he said, noting that although men may “know it’s inappropriate,” they might also think “she’s just really cool.”
When he suggested such fraternizing might be inappropriate, Kernick said Garcia fired him.
This is not the first allegation against Garcia, who is on unpaid leave from the California State Assembly pending the outcome of an investigation into claims that she groped another man.
According to then-25-year-old staffer Daniel Fierro, Garcia was intoxicated when she grabbed his backside and attempted to touch his crotch during a 2014 softball game.
Kernick was one of four former staffers who sent a letter last week to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in which they accused Garcia of creating a “toxic” work environment rife with inappropriate conversations and clear sexual overtones.
Though the other three signers requested to remain anonymous, two of them also spoke to Politico to describe the environment.
“It was a power imbalance,” one individual said. “You’re telling me, ‘We’re going to go to a happy hour,’ and I don’t want to do that.”
The former staffer said Garcia dominated conversations that often revolved around her own sexual conquests.
“It wasn’t a two-way street,” the individual said. “It was usually just us listening. I thought it was weird. It came off as sort of bragging.”
One lobbyist also corroborated some of the seemingly unprofessional workplace behavior, including drinking in her office.
The individual said Garcia offered “red Solo cups” filled with beer from a refrigerated keg in her office during a meeting last year.
That meeting occurred “sometime between 11 a.m. and noon,” the lobbyist said, describing it as “a little early” for the inclusion of alcohol.
A spokesperson for Garcia declined to answer questions regarding this claim, though the assemblywoman previously addressed Fierro’s allegation.
“The details of these claims have never been brought to my attention until today,” she said through a spokesperson earlier this month. “I can confirm that I did attend the 2014 legislative softball game with a number of members and my staff. I can also say I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values.”
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