The California Senate said on Sunday that from now on all sexual harassment claims will be investigated by an outside legal team, which will also give discipline recommendations. The announcement follows new allegations of sexual misconduct made against Senator Tony Mendoza.
Until now, complaints of sexual harassment were handled by employees in the human resources department, who then reported to a committee, without publicizing details of the complaints or the discipline. This process discourages women working on Capitol Hill from coming forward, in fear of political retaliation. The Senate Rules Committee said in a statement that complaints and discipline will now be made public by the outside legal team, at the discretion of the victims.
“This process will be designed to protect the privacy of victims and whistleblowers, transparency for the public, and adequate due process for all parties involved,” the committee’s statement read.
Last month, over 150 women signed a letter dealing with sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and the lack of action taken to stop it. The women behind the letter praised the change the Senate has made, which they believe shows that “Senate leadership is taking seriously the many accounts of harassment, abuse and discrimination that have been brought forward in the past few weeks.”
Last week, Mendoza was accused of harassing two women who used to work for him, which prompted these quick changes to be made. The senator was accused of inviting the two young women to his home, even though he denied ever doing that. These allegations will be investigated as soon as the legal team is hired.
The process for handling allegations of sexual harassment in the Senate, however, will not undergo any changes for the time being. A public hearing will likely be held on November 28 for people to give their suggestions as to how the process can be improved.