The California Assembly recently paid $100,000 to settle harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claims that were filed in 2014 against Steve Fox who, at the time, was an Assemblyman. Nancy Kathleen Finnigan, former legislative director for Fox, claimed he exposed himself to her and then terminated her employment when she reported his behavior.
The settlement was reached in April and effectively closed out the lawsuit. While settlement documentation does state it resolves the case, it does not contain specifics regarding Finnigan’s harassment claims against the then-Assemblyman. But Finnigan did allege in the lawsuit that at one point during her employment, she arrived at Fox’s apartment in order to pick him up for a legislative session when he overslept where she found him with his pants unzipped and unbuttoned and not wearing any undergarments. Finnigan also claimed that Fox made a number of unwanted sexual advances against another employee as well as requesting that she do work that was not related to her legislative duties in the office. The suit also included allegations that Finnigan was fired for reporting that harassing behavior.
Fox was elected in 2012 on the Democratic ticket in a northern Los Angeles County district. He had previously run as a Republican. After serving one term, he was defeated in 2014 and again in 2016 by Tom Lackey, Republican Assemblyman. Neither party wished to comment on the settlement agreement.
This news was released in the same week a letter was signed by close to 150 women (including lobbyists, lawmakers, and legislative staff) detailing just how pervasive the culture of harassment against women is in California’s Capitol. Various women told their stories of harassment including being groped and touched without consent, enduring inappropriate comments about their bodies or abilities, insults, sexual innuendo disguised as jokes…all of which undermined their professional positions and downplayed their capabilities on the job. The letter did not make accusations against any men by name.
The Finnigan settlement named Fox and his former Chief of Staff Ann Turtle, the Assembly and Lynda Roper, the Assembly’s deputy administrative officer, as Defendants. It wasn’t the first time similar accusations were made against Fox either. In 2015, the Legislature paid $110,000 to Kristina Zahn, former employee, who alleged she was asked to do “other” work on legislative time, not paid overtime, etc.
If you have questions about how to handle harassment in the workplace or if you need help handling a harassment lawsuit, contact one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.