Sexual Harassment by an Elected Official

Elected officials must obey many different state and federal laws while they serve their communities. This includes laws that prohibit workplace sexual harassment and discrimination. Unfortunately, many elected officials in California and across the country have been found guilty of sexual harassment. These cases have become more prominent in recent years due to the #MeToo movement and bills such as AB-1661, a new sexual harassment training mandate for elected officials in California. Discover your rights if you’ve experienced sexual harassment by an elected official.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is when someone at your work, school or elsewhere makes unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances or harasses or bullies you based on your sex, gender or appearance. It can refer to physical harassment, as well as verbal and visual harassment of a sexual nature. There are two main types of sexual harassment that you may face when working for or with an elected official:

  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment. Quid pro quo means “this for that.” It is when an elected official uses his or her position of power to persuade a victim that he or she must submit to unwelcome sexual requests or advances to achieve a certain position, job title or employment benefit – or to keep his or her job working for the elected official.
  • Hostile work environment. A hostile work environment can be created by an elected official if he or she engages in severe or persistent acts of harassment or discrimination that negatively impact workers or make their jobs impossible. This can occur from making unwelcome sexual advances, making employees uncomfortable, posting sexually explicit material in the workplace and other examples of sexual harassment.

While working for or with an elected official, you may also face discrimination based on your sex, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or another protected class, such as race or age. Discrimination means that you are treated differently (and worse) than your peers, such as facing adverse employment actions or disciplinary actions because of one of your traits.

Why Is Sexual Harassment Rampant Among Politicians and the Government?

Sexual harassment by elected officials occurs for many reasons. One is due to their positions of power over others. Politicians, governors and other elected officials in California may take advantage of their power over vulnerable and lower-stationed employees and staff members to sexually harass them. This is the same reason why women have historically faced sexual harassment more often than men; female workers are generally viewed by harassers as more vulnerable and insecure. 

However, sexual harassment by elected officials can also victimize men and nonbinary people. The LGBTQ+ community is especially vulnerable to sexual harassment and discrimination, according to statistics. A disparity in power is also why sexual harassment most often comes from elected officials, supervisors, managers and others in high positions in the government. Yet it can also come from coworkers, volunteers, civilians and others in the workplace. 

California’s Sexual Harassment Training Mandate

California Assembly Bill 1661 went into effect on September 29, 2016. It passed new training laws for all local agency officials and their employees. Under this law, these individuals must receive mandatory sexual harassment prevention education and training as part of their jobs. This includes elected officials, such as governors and lieutenant governors. It also includes House of Representatives employees, state school superintendents and commissioners. 

In addition to sexual harassment training, AB-1661 provides recourse for staff members, volunteers, unpaid interns, job applicants and other individuals who experience sexual harassment by coworkers, seniors and elected officials. This law provides high moral standards that elected officials must follow and guidelines for what to do if a victim experiences sexual harassment by an elected official or government employee.

Elected Officials Have a Long History of Sexual Harassment in California

California has a history of keeping sexual harassment allegations and settlements quiet. This has led to a culture that accepts and even encourages sexual harassment – something that protesters have spoken out against in recent years. In November 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, it was revealed during a hearing that California did not track sexual harassment complaints against government officials. After this revelation, the state budgeted $1.5 million to start tracking these complaints across state government departments. 

In 2018, the California Legislature released records that revealed many substantiated complaints against several officials in the state government, including Senators Bob Hertzberg and Tony Mendoza and Assembly Members Travis Allen and Autumn Burke. Sadly, this only scratches the surface of California’s history of sexual harassment allegations and lawsuits against elected officials.

What Is Retaliation? Are Whistleblowers Protected in California?

In addition to dealing with sexual harassment, victims may also suffer retaliation for coming forward with allegations or complaints against elected officials. Retaliation is the unlawful practice of punishing or taking adverse employment action against someone for filing a sexual harassment complaint, such as terminating an employee for reporting a government agent for sexual misconduct. Victims of retaliation have the right to file lawsuits in pursuit of financial compensation for their losses, including front pay and back pay.

A whistleblower is someone who comes forward and “blows the whistle,” or exposes, issues in a workplace such as sexual harassment. The California Whistleblower Protection Act prevents adverse employment actions or retaliation against employees who notify the authorities about a violation or compliance issue. This law protects you if you come forward with an allegation or complaint about sexual harassment by an elected official in your state or local government. There are similar laws on a federal level, as well.

How a Sexual Harassment Lawyer Can Help

If you’ve been impacted by sexual harassment by an elected official in California or suffered retaliation after coming forward with a complaint, please contact Manly, Stewart & Finaldi for a free case evaluation. Government agents are often not held accountable for their misconduct in California. For years, the government has shifted the costs of settlements to taxpayers and kept allegations quiet. An attorney can help you demand justice, accountability and maximum financial compensation for your trauma.

We can help you file a sexual harassment claim in California, keeping your identity private if desired. While most of our cases reach successful settlements, we have the power to go up against an elected official at trial, if necessary. Our sexual harassment, assault and abuse attorneys are ready to help you with every step of your case. Call (800) 700-8450 today to speak to a sexual harassment lawyer at no cost or obligation.