The California Senate has retained a prominent Bay Area employment attorney to investigate public allegations of “pervasive” sexual harassment and abuse leveled by dozens of women who work in and around the state Capitol.
Amy Oppenheimer of the Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer in Berkeley was chosen to review claims—publicized in a letter published Oct. 17 by the Los Angeles Times—that unnamed men “groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities.” The letter was signed by 147 lobbyists, lawmakers and staff.
“There’s always more employers can do to protect their employees,” Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said in a prepared statement on Monday. “Everyone deserves a workplace free of fear, harassment and sexual misbehavior and I applaud the courage of women working in and around the Capitol who are coming forward and making their voices heard.”
Oppenheimer’s firm is a go-to source for employers, many of them public agencies, seeking training for employees in sexual harassment laws as well as investigations into allegations of workplace wrongdoing. A former arbitrator, Oppenheimer worked almost 20 years as an administrative law judge at the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. She is also the founder and past president of the board of the Association of Workplace Investigators Inc.
The University of California, Berkeley, School of Law recently retained Oppenheimer’s firm to conduct Title IX training on sexual harassment and violence for all incoming J.D. students. The law school was rocked last year by allegations that then-Dean Sujit Choudhry sexually harassed his executive assistant.
Oppenheimer’s firm was one of several recommended by the Senate’s outside employment counsel, the law firm Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, according to a de Leon spokesman. De Leon’s office said a contract—with no specified duration—was still being drafted Monday. The office declined to specify how much Oppenheimer’s firm will be paid beyond “the general government rate for attorneys.”
Oppenheimer did not immediately respond to a message left at her office Monday.
The publication of the sexual harassment claims follows highly publicized allegations of sexual abuse and harassment made against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, which led to his abrupt resignation. The New York Attorney General’s Office on Monday announced a civil investigation targeting the Weinstein company.
The letter-writers said they weren’t shocked by the descriptions of Weinstein’s behavior.
“As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different. It has not,” they wrote. “Each of us has endured, witnessed or worked with women who have experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces.”
The women also launched a website, WeSaidEnough.com, that promises “a plan of action” for improving responses to harassment allegations at the Capitol.
Those who signed the letter include retired state Sen. Martha Escutia, a former Judiciary Committee chairwoman; Lea-Ann Tratten, political director of the Consumer Attorneys of California; Mariko Yoshihara, political director at the California Employment Lawyers Association; and Jennifer Wada, a contract lobbyist for the State Bar of California.