A California lawmaker is once-again facing accusations that he sexually harassed and assaulted staffers, including an instance in which he allegedly defended himself by claiming one victim “wanted it,” according to a lawsuit filed by his former chief of staff.
Republican Assemblyman Devon Mathis previously faced allegations of sexual assault in November. Those earlier claims could not be substantiated by the Sacramento Police Department, which closed the investigation, the Sacramento Bee reported.
However, Mathis’s ex-chief of staff, Sean Doherty, now claims the politician retaliated against him after he reported concerns about the lawmaker’s allegedly inappropriate behavior to the Assembly’s rules committee. Doherty has also accused the panel of not just failing to act on the complaints, but also of notifying Mathis about the reports against him.
Mathis was elected in 2014 and represents the state’s 26th District, which includes parts of California’s Central Valley.
Doherty—who alleges wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract—filed the suit in a state superior court in Sacramento last week. He’s seeking statutory, tort, and punitive damages.
Doherty, who was hired by the lawmaker in 2015, claims he “observed or learned of Mathis’ inappropriate relationships with staff, allegations and incidents of sexual harassment and assault, discrimination against female employees, and misuse of state resources.”
According to the complaint, Mathis allegedly forced members of his staff into “inappropriately close relationships” with him, “treating them as friends and drinking buddies, rather than subordinates.” The lawmaker is said to have created a “permanent schedule” for all of his employees “to accompany him at evening events where most attendees were drinking,” the court filings state.
“There were no exceptions, even for staffers with families, who attended night school, or did not drink,” the lawsuit claims.
One woman allegedly approached Doherty at an event to tell him the lawmaker “‘needs to stop grabbing my ass; every time he’s around, he’s hitting on me.’”
On another occasion, a witness allegedly found the politician in a bedroom assaulting a passed-out staffer who had vomited and then fallen asleep after drinking more than she could handle.
According to the lawsuit, Mathis allegedly excused himself to go to the bathroom after the staffer had been put to bed, and when the witness went looking for him, she said she walked in on the lawmaker groping the suddenly half-dressed woman.
She “woke up during the [resulting] commotion and asked, ‘Was he fingering me?’” according to the court documents.
Later, when Doherty confronted his boss about the alleged attack, the lawmaker didn’t deny it, the complaint claims.
Mathis allegedly assured Doherty: “She wanted it.”
The former chief of staff claims he sought assistance from the chamber’s rules committee at least four separate times in an effort “to rein in” his boss’ allegedly inappropriate behavior.
“They did not help,” the complaint claims.
Meanwhile, after he reported the behavior to the committee, Doherty’s relationship with Mathis “started to deteriorate more rapidly,” leading him to believe someone had informed his boss about the communication.
“This hampered Doherty’s efforts to improve Mathis’ behavior, created a hostile work environment, and resulted in the retaliation that ultimately led to Doherty’s wrongful termination,” according to the lawsuit, which names as defendants Mathis, the Assembly Rules Committee State Assembly, and several human-resource officials at the legislature.
The retaliation, according to the lawsuit, came in the form of “two un-founded sexual harassment complaints against Doherty...even though the Assembly neither investigated nor acted on the complaints.”
“Doherty denied and continues to deny the complaints,” the document claims. He allegedly believes that they were made “by a Mathis ally or someone under Mathis’s control for the purpose of inoculating Mathis.”
According to Our Valley Voice, Doherty was fired by Mathis’ office “for sexually explicit comments and verbal abuse of staffers.”
Two former employees who worked for Mathis have said that Doherty’s claims were inaccurate and that all of the allegations in the lawsuit describe behavior that the former chief of staff actually perpetrated himself.
Trystine Payer, who worked as an intern and then an assistant in Mathis’ office, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that she was harassed “every single day” by Doherty.
“He asked me if my boobs were real, what sized bra I wore,” she said over the phone. “I cannot believe that Sean is trying to play a victim in something that he created.”
Trent Lindsey, a former local field representative for Mathis, told the Voice: “Doherty would make inappropriate comments about female staffers in the legislative office. He would say things like, ‘I wonder what she is willing to do for me since I got her hired,’ or ‘I’m gonna try to f**k that one.’ These comments were also extended to my spouse and Mathis’ spouse.”
Mathis responded to the new allegations in a statement to the Sacramento Business Journal: “This is a baseless suit filed by a disgruntled former employee who was terminated by the Assembly."
The rules committee did not provide comment to the publication.
California is one of many states now fielding sexual harassment or assault allegations against its members. In February, the state’s legislature released documents that detailed accusations against 18 lawmakers and staffers from the past 10 years.