ARTESIA — Facing possible expulsion from the Legislature over sexual harassment allegations, Artesia democrat Tony Mendoza resigned Feb. 22 from the state Senate.
Mendoza, 46, submitted a terse resignation letter while the Senate prepared for a vote on a resolution to expel him. If the Senate had approved the resolution, Mendoza would have been the first California legislator expelled from office in more than a century.
Mendoza has repeatedly blasted the Senate’s harassment investigation, and he continued that criticism in his resignation letter, calling the probe “farcical” and in violation of Senate rules and his own due process and constitutional rights.
“I shall resign my position as senator with immediate effect as it is clear that Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon will not rest until he has my head on a platter to convince the MeToo movement of his ‘sincerity’ in supporting the MeToo cause,” Mendoza wrote.
De Leon introduced a resolution Feb. 21 calling for Mendoza’s expulsion from the Senate. It would have required a two-thirds vote of the Senate and would have made Mendoza the first California legislator expelled from office since 1905.
De Leon, a longtime friend and former roommate of Mendoza, chairs the Senate Rules Committee. He is also a candidate to unseat Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
His resolution stated that the committee’s investigation “concluded that it is more likely than not that Senator Mendoza engaged in unwanted and sexually suggestive behavior with multiple staff members over a period of several years.” It also notes that the Senate “is committed to providing a workplace free of sexual harassment and, in furtherance of that commitment, has adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ policy regarding harassment.”
Following Mendoza’s resignation, de Leon said the outcome “sent a loud and unmistakable message that our employees will be protected, that we will lead by example, and that no one senator is above the law or our code of conduct.”
The Senate Rules Committee released a four-page summary of its investigation — conducted by a pair of private law firms — Feb. 20. The investigators found that Mendoza “more likely than not” engaged in flirtatious or suggestive behavior toward a half-dozen women dating back to 2006.
“Four of these women were working for Mendoza as staff members, interns or fellows at the time of his conduct,” according to the summary.
“None of these women alleged that they had a sexual relationship with Mendoza or that he had been physically aggressive or sexually crude towards them.
“However, the recipients of this unwelcome behavior understood that Mendoza was suggesting sexual contact,” according to the report.
According to the report, none of the six women making allegations against Mendoza contended that he “explicitly threatened them or offered career benefits in exchange for sexual favors,” however, the women who were working for him “believed that complaining about his conduct could put their careers at risk.”
The report includes allegations dating back to 2006, beginning when Mendoza was serving in the state Assembly. According to the document, investigators found it “more likely than not” Mendoza:
• Engaged in flirtatious behavior with a female staffer in 2007, including asking her to share a room with him at an event in Hawaii.
• Shared alcoholic beverages with a 19-year-old intern in 2008 at a hotel at the Democratic California Convention and engaged in suggestive conversation with her, including asking about her dating life.
• Engaged in unwanted flirtatious and sexually suggestive behavior with a female staffer in 2010, including “inviting her to dinner or drinks and kissing her on the cheek after driving her to her house.”
• Engaged in flirtatious and suggestive behavior with a Senate Fellow, a woman in her 20s, in his office in 2017, including a suggestion that they share a hotel room at an overnight event they were both attending, suggesting she rent a spare room at his house and suggesting they take a vacation together.
• Flirted with another Senate Fellow working for another legislator in 2015, inviting her to visit him at his home.
• And engaged in flirtatious and suggestive behavior with a female lobbyist in 2015, taking her out to dinner and asking her “what type of guys she likes.”
The investigators rejected allegations that three Capitol staff members were fired in 2017 in retaliation for speaking out about Mendoza’s behavior. According to the report, there were “pre-existing conflicts” among members of Mendoza’s office, and the employees were likely “terminated for reasons unrelated to any complaint of sexual harassment.”
Mendoza, who has been on a leave of absence since early January, sent a letter to his fellow senators Feb. 21 saying the findings of the committee’s investigation don’t warrant expulsion from the Legislature.
“Although I wholly regret that I previously caused others to feel uncomfortable, I believe that my suspension or expulsion from the Senate would be both unwarranted and unprecedented,” Mendoza wrote in the letter.
He noted that he is up for reelection in June, and voters should be able to decide if he should hold onto his seat.
In his resignation letter, Mendoza re-stated his apology to anyone who felt uncomfortable by his actions, but said the findings of the Senate investigation “do not comport with my recollection or perception of the events described.”
But he lashed out at fellow senators, suggesting that the actions taken against him were motivated in part by Senate Democrats who are “either running for statewide office or under investigation,” and by the fears of “my mostly male colleagues from either party” who are “concerned at the prospect of being accused of ‘protecting’ me.”
Mendoza filed a lawsuit against the state last week, claiming he was illegally prevented from returning to work when his leave of absence was scheduled to end Jan. 26. The Senate voted at that time to extend his leave another 60 days so the probe could be completed.
He said he intends to continue pursuing his lawsuit, and he plans to “canvass” the Senate district and might run for election to reclaim the seat.
Mendoza is married with four children.
His 32nd Senate District includes Artesia, Bellflower, Buena Park, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Hacienda Heights, Hawaiian Gardens, La Habra Heights, La Mirada, Lakewood, Los Nietos, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Rose Hills, Santa Fe Springs, South Whittier
Mendoza served in the state Assembly from 2006-12, and was elected to the Senate in 2014. He is a former Artesia city councilman and mayor and was a school teacher before being elected to the Assembly.