Legislative Leaders Announce New Workplace Conduct Unit and Review Panel
SACRAMENTO – The California Legislature has established its landmark independent Workplace Conduct Unit, along with a panel of legal experts to review cases, Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) and Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) announced today. The unit is a national first, exceeding legal requirements and providing worker protection that is more comprehensive than any other state legislature.
Pro Tem Atkins and Speaker Rendon, along with California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, also announced the appointment of the five employment law experts to sit on the California Legislature’s new Workplace Conduct Panel.
The panel will work in concert with the Workplace Conduct Unit (WCU) led by Executive Director Julia V. Johnson. The office operates within the Legislative Counsel’s Office. Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine, independent of Assembly and Senate leadership, selected Johnson. Johnson previously served as assistant general counsel at the Labor and Workplace Development Agency and as presiding administrative law judge for the State Personnel Board.
The review panel will:
- Review investigations referred by the WCU, working in subgroups of three panelists.
- Make recommendations to the relevant house, Assembly or Senate, consistent with the facts found by the panel.
The Workplace Conduct Unit will:
- Receive all reports alleging workplace conduct violations that affect protected groups in the Senate and the Assembly.
- Assure independent and confidential investigation of allegations.
- Summarize the evidence for the panel to review.
Both bodies will begin effective operation February 1. Under established policy, the Senate and Assembly release documents related to sexual harassment claims that have been substantiated against a high-level legislative employee or legislator. This will continue following decisions on complaints taken to the new WCU.
The appointments to the Workplace Conduct Panel are:
- Connie Broussard (Assembly): Ms. Broussard is principal attorney at Broussard Law, a private law firm that represents employees in a variety of legal affairs. Broussard also specializes in teaching unconscious bias classes and conducting workplace investigations. Broussard was previously an attorney in the civil and criminal divisions of the California Attorney General’s office for 15 years.
- Vicki Laden (Senate): Ms. Laden has extensive experience in labor and employment law and litigation. Laden currently works at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developing policies and programs to ensure the integrity of scientific research and managing the whistleblower program. Laden has previously held positions investigating allegations of sexual misconduct at the University of California, San Francisco, and developing harassment and discrimination policies at the Oakland City Attorney’s office.
- Linda Foy (Chief Justice): Ms. Foy has nearly three decades of experience as a labor and employment attorney. Most recently, Foy was principal managing attorney at the legal services office of the Judicial Council of California. Foy previously spent 17 years at the law firm Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, P.C., specializing in employment litigation and counseling.
- Crystal Miller-O’Brien (Chief Justice): Crystal Miller-O’Brien is corporate counsel to MMChr, LLC, a human resources outsourcing provider that manages HR matters for 5,000 employees in both the public and private sectors. Since 2012, Miller-O’Brien has served on the California Law Revision Commission, the state panel charged with reviewing proposed changes and revisions to state legislation.
- Fred Plevin (Chief Justice): Fred Plevin has served as an employment attorney representing public and private sector employers for over three decades, including currently as a managing partner of Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton LLP. Plevin specializes in employment discrimination law and workplace investigations, with 15 years of experience representing the California Judicial Branch in employment matters.
Senate and Assembly leaders commented on the landmark steps taken by the Legislature:
Speaker Anthony Rendon
“With these appointments, we are nearing full operation of the process that gained unanimous bipartisan, bicameral approval in 2018, as the Legislature took ownership of the need to root out sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct. This is not the end solution, but it is an important step in our ongoing efforts to make the Capitol a safe and rewarding workplace. It was clear, throughout the many hours of hearings held last year, that just changing rules and procedures will not be effective if we do not also do the harder work of changing the culture. It is the responsibility of every single person here to speak up to end abuses.”
Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins
“Last year we made a commitment to our Capitol community that action must be taken and it is my hope that today marks a big step in achieving the trust of our legislative employees. Our goals are clear: we need to protect victims and witnesses, hold perpetrators accountable, and restore employee and public confidence. Make no mistake – I realize we cannot be satisfied with our progress because this step alone will not change the culture of this building. We can never be satisfied because culture change is something that demands all of us to continue to strive to hold each other and ourselves accountable.”
Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron
“Everyone in the Capitol deserves to feel safe and respected. That includes interns, staff, constituents, advocates and even the Members themselves. This is a much-needed step to create an environment where misconduct will no longer be tolerated. While we still have a long way to go in the fight to end workplace harassment, the Workplace Conduct Unit is an important milestone in our efforts to improve the culture in the Capitol.”
Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates
“The appointments of the panelists is another step in the right direction to ensure that the Capitol is a safe place for everyone. I will continue to work with my colleagues to help change the culture and the procedures that have allowed sexual harassment and other unacceptable conduct to be ignored or tolerated. The Legislature cannot change the past, but we must create a better environment where victims are protected, offenders are held accountable, and mutual respect prevails throughout the Capitol and beyond.”
Toni G. Atkins is President pro Tempore of the California Senate. Having previously served as Speaker of the California Assembly, she began her tenure in the Senate in 2016. As Senator for District 39, she represents the cities of San Diego, Coronado, Del Mar and Solana Beach. Website of President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins: www.senate.ca.gov/Atkins.