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Democratic lawmaker and #MeToo advocate faces sexual harassment accusations and investigation

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Calif.), an advocate for the #MeToo movement, is being accused of sexual harassment. In a statement, Garcia responded: "I can also say I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior." (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D), who has been a leading advocate for the #MeToo movement, is herself under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct and harassment, according to Politico.

Garcia was featured in a Time article in December that announced “Silence Breakers” of sexual harassment were its “Persons of the Year.” And she has said she was sexually harassed multiple times while working as a legislator.

But now Garcia is the subject of legislative investigation following allegations that she sexually harassed and groped a former legislative staff member, Politico reported.

Garcia announced Friday afternoon that she is taking a voluntary, unpaid leave of absence, the Associated Press reported. Prior to the announcement, she denied the allegations in a written statement.

What are the allegations?

Daniel Fierro alleges that in 2014, when he was a 25-year-old staffer for Assemblyman Ian Calderon, Garcia cornered him after the annual Assembly softball game in Sacramento. According to the report, she allegedly approached him in the dugout where he was cleaning up after the game.

Fierro alleges that “she began stroking his back, then squeezed his buttocks and attempted to touch his crotch,” before he broke free and quickly left. He said it appeared she had been drinking.

Garcia is known as a powerful Democratic lawmaker who chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus and the Natural Resources Committee, Politico reported.

The alleged incident happened years before the current #MeToo movement and prior to new whistleblower laws that protect legislative staffers.

Fierro mentioned the incident last January to his former boss, Calderon, who contacted the Assembly Rules Committee, which in turn launched an investigation.

A Sacramento lobbyist also claims Garcia sexually accosted him. In May 2017, Garcia allegedly made “a graphic sexual proposal, and tried to grab his crotch at a political fundraiser,” Politico reported, adding that he spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation.

Garcia was apparently drinking heavily at a fundraiser hosted by California Gov. Jerry Brown, the lobbyist, who works for a major industry association, said.

He alleged that she stopped him as he was leaving the event – partly to avoid her. The assemblywoman allegedly flirted with him and called him several times for late night drinks, which he declined.

As he was leaving, she allegedly attempted to grab his crotch and propositioned him.

How did Garcia respond?

In a written statement Thursday, Garcia said:

Every complaint about sexual harassment should be taken seriously and I will participate fully in any investigation that takes place. The details of these claims have never been brought to my attention until today. 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.

The accounts of Garcia's alleged behavior fall in stark contrast to her position as a leading political voice in the #MeToo issue. Garcia had also told the New York Times that she was a repeatedly sexually harassed by men while doing her legislative work.

“Multiple people have grabbed my butt and grabbed my breasts,” she told the Times. “We’re talking about senior lobbyists and lawmakers.”

According to California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s office, the Assembly is reviewing 10 allegations of sexual harassment.

“I have female co-workers who have gone through this — and it absolutely needs to be talked about,’’ a spokesman for Rendon's office told Politico. “The problem is when Cristina is the one, it’s for everyone to roll their eyes ... and it takes away from the issue ... and the credibility.”

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