SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Tony Mendoza is facing an internal investigation over allegations of inappropriate behavior toward a young female employee, including inviting her to his home, Senate Secretary Danny Alvarez confirmed Thursday.
"These allegations are being rigorously reviewed and investigated consistent with our legal process, employment standards and privacy protections," Alvarez said.
The allegations against Mendoza, first reported Thursday by the Sacramento Bee , make him the latest California lawmaker in the spotlight since roughly 150 women who work in and around the Capitol wrote an open letter calling out a pervasive culture of sexual harassment. The Senate has conducted six sexual harassment investigations since 2012 and the Assembly has conducted eight, according to information provided to The Associated Press on Thursday in response to a public records request. Officials refused to disclose how many investigations resulted in discipline.
It's unclear if the Senate tally includes the investigation into Mendoza. The total number of complaints since 2006 is 31, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Mendoza said in a statement he would never knowingly abuse his authority "nor intentionally put an employee into an awkward or uncomfortable position." His statement did not confirm or deny if he invited the young employee to his home. He did not know a complaint was made against him until a Bee reporter called him, he said.
"It was completely news to me," he said in an emailed statement.
The home Mendoza allegedly invited the young staff member to is his home in Sacramento, where Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon rents a room, the Bee reported. Lawmakers often stay in Sacramento during session weeks rather than commuting home.
De Leon was unaware of the alleged invitation by Mendoza to the staff member and the investigation into him, his spokesman said. De Leon, who is running for U.S. Senate, is the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, which is tasked with handling complaints. The Senate recently hired an outside investigator to look into complaints of widespread harassment.
The female staff member has not been publicly identified. She worked for the Senate through a fellowship program run in partnership with the California State University-Sacramento. Brian Blomster, a university spokesman, said the university just learned of the allegations and investigating whether its own policies were violated.
"The university takes its obligations to protect its students and employees seriously," he said.
Mendoza is the first sitting senator to be named in connection with allegations of inappropriate conduct since the letter came out. Democratic Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra faced discipline in 2009, when he was a staff member, after a female staff member said he reached inside her shirt at an after-work party.
Most women who signed the letter have declined to provide names of male lawmakers, staff members and lobbyists they said have engaged in sexual harassment.