California Assembly paid $100K to settle harassment claims
By KATHLEEN RONAYNE
Oct. 20, 2017
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Assembly paid $100,000 to settle harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims made in 2014 against then-Assemblyman Steve Fox, who an aide said exposed himself and then fired her when she reported his behavior.
The settlement, reached in April, closed out a lawsuit by Nancy Kathleen Finnigan, former legislative director for Fox, D-Palmdale, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.
The settlement document does not contain details of Finnigan's claims. But the Sacramento Bee reported Finnigan's lawsuit alleged she once arrived at Fox's apartment to pick him up for a legislative session when he overslept and found him with his pants unzipped and unbuttoned and not wearing underwear.
She also alleged Fox made unwanted sexual advances against another employee and asked her to perform work unrelated to her legislative duties. Finnigan's suit claimed she was fired for reporting Fox's behavior, the Bee reported.
Fox was elected on the Democratic ticket in 2012 in a district covering northern Los Angeles County after previously running as a Republican. He served one term and was defeated in 2014 and again in 2016 by Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey.
A woman who answered the phone at Fox's law firm on Thursday said he is not commenting on the settlement. Finnigan's attorney, Mary-Alice Coleman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
News of the settlement comes during a week when a letter signed by nearly 150 women including lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative staff was circulated and said California's Capitol has a "pervasive" culture of harassment against women.
"Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities," the letter said. "Insults and sexual innuendo, frequently disguised as jokes, have undermined our professional positions and capabilities."
The letter did not identify any men by name.
The settlement with Finnigan names as defendants Fox, his former Chief of Staff Ann Turtle, the Assembly and Lynda Roper, the Assembly's deputy administrative officer. Her lawsuit also claimed she was asked to perform non-legislative related tasks for Fox, including giving him etiquette lessons and reminding him to wear clean clothes, the Bee reported.
That tracks with an earlier settlement involving Fox paid out by the Assembly.
In 2015, the Legislature paid $110,000 to Kristina Zahn, another former employee, according to a copy obtained by AP. Zahn alleged she was asked to do campaign work on legislative time, not paid overtime, and asked to do work for his law firm, the Bee reported.
The settlement documents in Finnigan's case do not detail if and when she made a formal complaint about Fox or his staff members. It lists her claims as discrimination and harassment, retaliation, as well as failure to prevent all three.
The Assembly Rules Committee handles complaints of sexual harassment, according to the chamber's written policy. The policy bans retaliation against people who report it.
This story has been corrected to show the proper spelling of Finnigan's last name.