Orange County GOP asks embattled Assemblyman Bill Brough to bow out of 2020 election

The Republican Party of Orange County on Monday night called for GOP Assemblyman Bill Brough to bow out of the 2020 race for California’s 73rd Assembly District and retire from office when his current term ends.

Brough, R-Dana Point, is facing allegations of sexual assault and an investigation by state ethics officials over his use of campaign funds. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in both cases, accusing the women who’ve filed harassment complaints against him of being motivated by politics.

But in executive session during the OCGOP’s monthly Central Committee Meeting, elected members overwhelmingly voted to approve a resolution opposing Brough’s re-election “based on the totality of the circumstances and allegations surrounding the Assemblyman.”

A source who was present in the closed door meeting tells the Register that only Brough and one or two other members voted against the resolution. When it passed, the source said Brough stormed out of the meeting.

The assemblyman, who’s serving his third representing AD-73, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday night’s vote.

It was during the OCGOP’s June meeting that Supervisor Lisa Bartlett first publicly accused Brough of sexually harassing her during an event eight years earlier when the pair were serving on the Dana Point City Council.

Three other women then also came forward to accuse Brough of making unwanted sexual advances in the past, though two of the women chose to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. But Brough outed those women in a mass email sent to OCGOP members Aug. 16. In the email, Brough again denied the women’s claims, insisting they were all retaliating against him for action he’s taken to try to control escalating costs for Orange County’s toll road projects.

“One thing I learned over the years is when you kick the beehive the bees come out,” he wrote.

In a joint statement released Monday night, Brough accusers Bartlett, Heather Baez and Jenniffer Rodriguez said they decided to speak out to defend themselves and correct the record.

“Bill Brough’s sexual misconduct and predatorial behavior has already caused each of us great pain and anxiety. As if that was not enough, now he is using his position of power to shame and intimidate us. Unfortunately for Bill, his actions have given us more resolve than ever to stand up against his bullying tactics and tell people the truth about his behavior.”

Baez, who’s been a staffer for state legislators and worked for local government agencies, said she filed a sexual harassment complaint against Brough with the state assembly in 2017. She said Brough has made “repeated and unwanted advances” for years, “including inviting me to drinks, dinners, an overnight hotel stay, and an extremely offensive and non-consensual physical contact.” Baez denies that her accusations are politically motivated, insisting she stayed quiet before because she didn’t want the incidents to interfere with her job.

Rodriguez refuted Brough’s claim in his mass email to OCGOP members that he only met her “once in 2015.”

During that meeting, Rodriguez alleges Brough said, “‘I have been watching you for a long time and wondering why you weren’t married.’ He even described a dress he had seen me wearing at a previous event. He then went on to tell me that he was ‘on the Elections Committee’ and could help me out if I went home with him.” When Rodriguez told Brough that she was disgusted by his proposition, she says “he sat there and smiled.” Rodriguez said she immediately called her boss to help get her out of the situation, then told various coworkers and elected officials about the incident.

Patricia Wenskunas, founder of the Irvine-based non-profit Crime Survivors, was guest speaker at Monday’s OCGOP Central Committee Meeting. She gave an impassioned defense of Brough’s accusers.

“It is long past time that he is held accountable for his actions and treatment of these women,” Wenskunas said in a statement. “He should resign immediately.”

The Central Committee stopped short of calling for Brough to resign, instead encouraging him not to seek reelection.

Assemblyman Steven Choi, R-Irvine, was one of the only people to speak in defense of Brough, according to a source who was present. Choi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent to his chief of staff.

In August, the Register reported that Brough spent roughly $35,000 in campaign funds over the first six months of the year on travel, hotels, food, clothing and sports tickets. The state announced the next day that it was already investigating an ethics complaint that claims Brough spent roughly $200,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses over the past four years.

Brough issued a brief statement in response stating that he’d been cleared by past audits, though one state audit did lead to a written warning from ethics officials.

In the wake of those reports, the influential conservative group the Lincoln Club of Orange County last week rescinded its previous endorsement of Brough’s 2020 candidacy. And the grassroots group the Orange County Congress of Republicans announced it was endorsing GOP challenger Ed Sachs.

Brough is also facing competition from Republicans Laurie Davies and Melanie Eustice along with Democratic challenger Scott Rhinehart.

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The #MeToo push could lead to limits on binding arbitration in California

Buoyed by the #MeToo movement, California lawmakers are mounting a new push to prevent businesses from forcing workers into closed-door arbitration over sexual harassment, wage theft, discrimination and other complaints.

A bill authored by Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), AB 3080, would affect 67 percent of private California employers–those who require their nonunion workers to sign agreements waiving their rights to file a lawsuit or to complain to state or federal agencies in the event of a dispute.

“In forced arbitration, settlements often require the victim to refrain from discussing the case publicly,” Gonzalez Fletcher said.

“In a workplace with a culture of sexual harassment, these arbitration agreements are particularly toxic, enabling the abusive behavior to continue unchecked,” she added.

The bill would prohibit employers from making new hires sign the waivers as a condition of getting the job, continuing in the job, or receiving an employment-related benefit, such as a bonus. Employers also would be barred from retaliating against any employee who declines to sign such an agreement.

The debate over mandatory arbitration, and the non-disclosure agreements they often include, has exploded nationally in recent months. Victims of sexual harassment and discrimination from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to Wall Street complain they are being silenced by paperwork they were made to sign as a condition of employment.

Under arbitration clauses, workers are referred to the employer’s dispute resolution company, which offers a list of arbitrators from which to choose. The arbitrators, often attorneys or retired judges, make legally binding decisions in private, away from any media scrutiny.

In 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar anti-arbitration bill after intense lobbying by the California Chamber of Commerce and some 40 trade groups representing homebuilders, restaurants, hotels, retailers and other industries.

Brown acknowledged at the time “there is significant debate about whether arbitration is less fair to employees.”  However, he wrote that courts have protected workers by requiring arbitrators to be neutral in workforce disputes.

He also cited court mandates for “adequate [legal] discovery, no limitation on damages or remedies, a written decision that permits some judicial review, and limitations on the costs of arbitration.”

At an Assembly Labor and Employment Committee hearing last week, the Chamber’s Jennifer Barrera said arbitration proceedings are “a more open forum” than courts because information on the cases are posted on arbitration company websites.

Bipartisan legislation pending in Congress to address arbitration in sexual harassment cases is “where the discussion is,” she added. “It is a federal issue.”

Binding arbitration is used not just in employment, but also in a broad range of transactions by businesses such as credit card companies and even by doctors’ offices. The practice accelerated after 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that AT&T customers had given up their right to sue in the fine print of their service contract.

Barrera said the Gonzalez Fletcher legislation would “probably be preempted” by federal arbitration law.

However, Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, a chief sponsor of AB 3080, said, “We’re confident these provisions are well within the state’s purview without running afoul of federal law.

“The problem is growing exponentially. We need to put a lid on it or all the work California has done to protect workers is at risk.”

The bill passed the labor committee last week on a 5-2 party line vote: Democrats voted in favor and Republicans opposed it.

It is scheduled to be heard in the Judiciary Committee Tuesday and could reach the Assembly floor by the end of the month.

Gonzalez Fletcher has asked Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) to issue a subpoena to allow Tara Zoumer, who gained notoriety in 2016 for suing WeWork for overtime pay, to testify without legal consequences, despite having signed a non-disclosure agreement in an arbitration proceeding. The San Diego Democrat also has enlisted Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer whose blog post about sexual harassment at the ride-sharing company became a cause célèbre, contributing to the downfall of chief executive Travis Kalanick.

Fowler was unable to sue Uber because she had signed the company’s arbitration agreement.

“On my first day, I was sexually harassed and retaliated against for reporting it,” Fowler said at a press conference last week. “As a condition of employment, Uber made us sign away our constitutional rights.

“Ending forced arbitration is the single most important thing the legislature can do to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace.”

At the committee hearing, Roberto Ramirez, who worked 18 years as a cook and cashier for a Los Angeles Carl’s Jr. outlet, wept as he described what he called “the humiliation” of a manager stealing a week’s wages from him and regularly denying him rest breaks and sick leave.

“My manager told me there was nothing I could do because of company policies,” he said. “I was told I had no rights.”

A spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants, Carl’s Jr.’s corporate parent, said the company “does its best to be a fair place to work” and does not require arbitration contracts. However it does not restrict the right of its franchises to do so, she added.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, found that mandatory arbitration is most common in low-wage workplaces and in industries with a high number of women workers.

EPI found that last year 56 percent of private-sector nonunion workers in the U.S. — about 60 million people — were subject to mandatory arbitration in employment contracts. The agreements bar access to the courts for all types of legal claims, including those based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“The practice is especially widespread in California,” said EPI attorney Marni von Wilpert. “This means that, when a worker is paid less than she is owed, is fired for being pregnant, or is underpaid because of her race, she cannot have her claim heard in a court of law. Instead, she is locked into a private arbitration process that favors the employer.”

Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill, unlike the 2015 version, does not invalidate current arbitration agreements that workers were obliged to sign.

“Arbitration is a highly effective dispute resolution method when both parties chose it freely,” she said. “It is far less successful when the more powerful party forces the other to accept the terms.”

RELATED:

A push to end mandatory workplace arbitration: Will aggrieved workers get their day in court?

Gov. Brown vetoes bill that would have protected workers’ right to sue employers

Navy reservist wants a day in court, not arbitration

CalPERS weighs push for sexual-harassment corporate disclosure

Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn accused of sexual misconduct

Gretchen Carlson’s new book ‘Be Fierce’ finds the former Fox News anchor on the front lines in the fight against sexual harassment

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