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Lawmaker who led #MeToo push accused of firing aide who wouldn’t play spin the bottle

California Democratic Assemblywoman and vocal #MeToo advocate Cristina Garcia is under investigation for allegedly groping a former male staffer. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post, Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/The Washington Post)

California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, one of the leading voices behind the #MeToo movement, is facing accusations that she sexually harassed staffers — including one who said she fired him after he refused to play a game of spin the bottle with her.

David John Kernick, a former field representative for Garcia, said the Democratic lawmaker from Southern California approached him after a 2014 fundraiser at a whiskey bar and suggested that they play spin the bottle in her hotel room, according to a complaint filed Saturday with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Kernick said he was written up for insubordination after he questioned the appropriateness of Garcia’s suggestion and was fired two days later.

The complaint also says that it was “extremely stressful” working for Garcia, who represents Bell Gardens, Calif., and holds numerous leadership positions in the state legislature.

“Ms. Garcia was very disparaging to the staff and others, used vulgar language, discussed topics inappropriate for the workplace and showed herself to be very vindictive in nature,” the complaint says.

Kernick’s complaint is the latest in a series of sexual misconduct allegations against Garcia, who has denied that she behaved inappropriately

“Over the last weeks, there have been several claims accusing me of inappropriate conduct in my role as a California State legislator. In each case, these accusations are simply not true and are inconsistent with my personal value system and how I seek to conduct myself as an elected official,” Garcia said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I believe these accusations are part of a concerted effort to discredit my person and record as a legislator.”

The allegations began to surface on Feb. 8, when Politico reported on another former staffer’s accusation that Garcia had groped him.

Daniel Fierro told The Washington Post’s Derek Hawkins that Garcia approached him after an assembly softball game in 2014, squeezed his buttocks and tried to touch his crotch. He said Garcia was visibly intoxicated.

Female California lawmaker behind #MeToo push is accused of groping male staffer

Fierro, who was 25 at the time, did not report the incident because he worried about the long-term consequences of accusing the powerful lawmaker of misconduct. Garcia heads the Legislative Women’s Caucus and also chairs the assembly’s Natural Resources Committee.

But in January, Fierro reported the incident to his former boss, state Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), who referred the matter to the assembly panel that is now investigating Garcia.

On Wednesday, attorney Dan Gilleon unveiled new sexual harassment allegations from four anonymous former staffers during a news conference on the steps of the state capitol in Sacramento, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The former staffers alleged that Garcia talked about her sex life in front of employees; drank alcohol at work; and told staffers that they were expendable, Gilleon told The Post.

Gilleon said his clients decided to come forward after Fierro went public with his allegations in January. He also said he is prepared to take legal action if there is any retaliation against his clients.

“They decided to come out not for themselves … but also to let everybody know what it was really like working for her,” Gilleon said. “Had Fierro not come out, my clients would not have talked.”

One of those clients is Kernick, who revealed his identity in the newly filed complaint.

Garcia has taken a voluntary, unpaid leave of absence and said she will address each of the allegations after the investigation is closed.

On Wednesday, she wrote on Facebook: “I will add that in order for legislators to accomplish all we want for the people of our districts and the people of California, we need talented staff who feel empowered to do their work. … I am confident I have consistently treated my staff fairly and respectfully.”

In her statement, Garcia said someone had hired a private investigator in an effort to smear her reputation.

Tenants at properties she owns reported to her last November that the private investigator had knocked on their doors asking questions about her ethics as a landlord, Garcia said. Former staffers also told her that they had received calls from the investigator asking if she was an abusive boss, or whether they would believe allegations that Garcia had committed a sexual misconduct and had problems with alcohol, she said

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“I believe it is rational to ask why someone would hire a private investigator to carry out such a line of questioning,” Garcia said.

Garcia did not say who the private investigator is or who may have hired that person.

Tim Reardon, the legislator’s former chief of staff, told the Bee that Kernick’s accusations were a “complete falsehood.” Reardon said Kernick was fired because he wasn’t doing his job.

“It’s like a malicious, really bizarre alternate universe built on a lot of innuendo and lies solely to destroy the character of Assemblywoman Garcia,” Reardon said of all the allegations against his former boss.

Elected in 2012, Garcia has made women’s issues among her legislative priorities and introduced legislation that would repeal a state tax on feminine health products. Following the outrage after a judge handed down a six-month prison sentence to a college swimmer who had sexually assaulted an unconscious woman on campus, Garcia co-authored a bill that expanded the legal definition of rape to include all forms of nonconsensual sexual assault.

The allegations against Garcia come as she has been playing a more prominent role in the #MeToo movement. A few days before Politico reported on Fierro’s allegations, Garcia celebrated the passage of a California law that would penalize a lawmaker who retaliates against a staffer for making a “good faith allegation.” This includes allegations of sexual harassment.

Garcia was also among the dozens of “silence breakers” featured by Time magazine in December. “The Silence Breakers,” or those who spoke out against sexual assault and harassment, are Time’s Person of the Year for 2017.

“I didn’t know I was part of the story. That I was pictured and added to a timeline of this reckoning. It’s an awkwardly humbling experience, but I am proud of this work and the company I am in,” Garcia tweeted in response to her inclusion. She used the hashtags #MeToo and #WeSaidEnough.

Garcia also was a strong critic of male colleagues who had been accused of sexual misconduct.

“I believe the victims who’ve broken their silence on the actions of Mendoza & Dababneh,” Garcia tweeted in December, referring to state Sen. Tony Mendoza and Assemblyman Matt Dababneh. “They have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Let alone it’s multiple victims who’ve come forward. Both members should resign.”

Mendoza (D-Artesia) was accused of making sexual advances toward three interns. Dababneh (D-Encino), who has since resigned, was accused of sexually assaulting a lobbyist.

Derek Hawkins contributed to this report, which has been updated.

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