DOWNEY – Two women have accused Tony Mendoza – Downey’s representative in the California senate – of sexual harassment, charges he denies.
The Sacramento Bee broke the story Nov. 9, reporting that the Senate was investigating an allegation that earlier this year Mendoza invited a 23-year-old woman to his home to review her résumé for a job opportunity in his office.
According to the Bee, the woman was working as a fellow in Mendoza’s office as part of a Sacramento State program that places graduates in legislative offices for 11 months.
The woman was seeking a permanent job in Mendoza’s office and had submitted a resume, the Bee reported. On Aug. 31, Mendoza allegedly offered to review her resume at his Sacramento home, an offer she declined.
A week prior, Mendoza “had suggested the fellow could spend the night in his hotel room before an early golf tournament fundraiser at Cache Creek the next day,” the Bee reported. The woman declined that offer as well.
The fellow reported Mendoza’s actions to the head of the fellowship program – David Pacheco – who alerted Jeannie Oropeza, head of human resources under the Senate Rules Committee.
The newspaper also reported that Mendoza fired three staff members who had knowledge of the accusations and resulting investigation. They signed confidentiality agreements and were fired Sept. 22, according to the Bee.
After that story published, a second woman – Jennifer Kwart – went public with allegations that while at the 2008 California Democratic Party convention, Mendoza picked her up from the airport and took her to a hotel suite, where they drank liquor from the hotel room’s mini-bar.
Kwart was a 19-year-old intern in Mendoza’s Norwalk office at the time.
Kwart said that Mendoza asked questions about her ex-boyfriends and taste in men. On their way to the convention, Mendoza said he didn’t want to spend much time at the convention because “then we won’t have time for anything else,” Kwart said.
“I interpreted that to mean this guy thinks I’m going to have sex with him,” Kwart told the Bee.
During a dinner alone with Mendoza that night, Kwart said she faked a phone call and retreated to her room. She returned home the next day.
Mendoza’s office didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. But in a statement to the Bee, Mendoza, who is married with four children, said he would “never knowingly abuse his authority or put an employee in an uncomfortable position.”
“If I’ve communicated or miscommunicated anything that has ever made a female employee feel uncomfortable, then I am deeply embarrassed and I will immediately apologize,” he said.
Mendoza was elected to the state Senate in 2014, beating former Downey mayor Mario Guerra. In a statement, Guerra didn’t explicitly call on Mendoza to resign, but said he “has lost the ability to govern effectively on behalf of our residents.”
“While some will call my comments on this issue a political statement, our campaign knew about some of these allegations told to us by some of his former employees back in 2014,” Guerra said. “We knew about the systemic institutional problem that continued to cover up his indiscretions and abuse of power over many women.
“If these allegations are true, and it seems the credibility of the victims is beyond reproach, Mr. Mendoza has not only betrayed the most sacred trust placed upon him as a legislator, but also as a person in a position of power.”
In response to the allegations, the Senate announced Sunday that the Senate Rules Committee would no longer investigate accusations of sexual harassment. Instead, together with the Senate Democratic Women’s Caucus, the Senate will hire an outside legal team to conduct investigations and recommend discipline.