Calif. Democrat and #MeToo leader accused of groping male staffer

A California Democrat who was featured in Time magazine’s Person of the Year issue for her role in the anti-sexual harassment “#MeToo” movement has been accused of drunkenly groping a male legislative staffer at a softball game in 2014.

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Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia allegedly stroked the then-25-year-old staffer’s back, tried to squeeze his buttocks and attempted to grab his crotch as he walked away from her. 

The staffer, Daniel Fierro, worked for Assemblyman Ian Calderon at the time. He did not immediately report the incident but in January told Calderon, also a Democrat, who reported it to Assembly leaders.

Garcia was “clearly inebriated” during the 30- to 35-second episode, Fierro said.

“Her hand was there and it slipped down to my butt and she tried to squeeze," Fierro added.

"Her hand was there and it slipped down to my butt and she tried to squeeze."

- Daniel Fierro, former California legislative staffer

The Assembly is now investigating Garcia. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, said in a statement he is directing human resources to reach out to Garcia's staff to make sure they feel safe.

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Separately, Politico reported that a lobbyist who declined to be named claimed Garcia made crude sexual comments and tried to grab his crotch at a 2017 fundraiser.

"Every complaint about sexual harassment should be taken seriously and I will participate fully in any investigation that takes place," Garcia, a Los Angeles-area lawmaker, said Thursday. "I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values."

Fierro said he decided to tell Calderon about the incident because of Garcia's outspokenness in the #MeToo movement. He was reportedly interviewed last Friday by an outside law firm hired by the Assembly Rules Committee.

Garcia was elected in 2012 and has carved out a name as a champion of women's issues and environmental health for poor communities and chairs the Women's Caucus.

"I refuse to work with (Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra) and anyone who takes part in harassment or assault," she tweeted in October after it was reported Bocanegra had been disciplined in 2009 for groping a colleague. Bocanegra later resigned after more women made public accusations.

In a November interview with the Associated Press about alcohol-fueled fundraisers and other after-work events that are a part of regular business in Sacramento, Garcia said blaming alcohol isn't an acceptable excuse for sexually inappropriate behavior. It's men who choose to misbehave, not the social events themselves, that create the problems, she said.

"I would say that most of the public realizes that our job is based on relationships, and so we are expected to go out there and socialize," she said. "I think our public also expects us to hold ourselves to a higher standard."

"I would say that most of the public realizes that our job is based on relationships, and so we are expected to go out there and socialize. I think our public also expects us to hold ourselves to a higher standard."

- California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia

The Assembly committee said last week that eight allegations of sexual harassment are pending in the Assembly but did not divulge any names.

Fierro, of Cerritos, left the Assembly in 2016 and now runs a communications firm. Calderon, his former boss, is now the majority leader. Lerna Shirinian, Calderon's communications director, said Fierro told her about the incident right after it happened.

"He was in shock, I was in shock — but the culture was very different back then," Shirinian told Politico.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.