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Assembly Pays Aide $50,000 to Settle Complaint

Former press secretary claimed legislator had sexually harassed her. Assemblywoman calls the settlement, granted by a panel, 'ridiculous.'

January 08, 2005|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The California Assembly agreed last week to pay nearly $50,000 to settle a staff member's year-old complaint of sexual harassment against a Bay Area legislator.

Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn (D-Saratoga) said the complaint filed against her by former press secretary Ericka Weaver-Taylor was "without merit" and that the settlement -- made public Friday -- was "ridiculous."

"I don't think she should be getting anything," said Cohn. "But I don't have any control over Assembly benefits."

Weaver-Taylor had accused Cohn of creating an uncomfortable workplace by, among other things, talking explicitly about her sex life, wearing inappropriate clothing, and asking Weaver-Taylor to hold her undergarments during a photo shoot for San Jose magazine, in which Cohn appeared in a low-cut leopard-print dress.

Weaver-Taylor filed a complaint against both Cohn and the Assembly in December 2003.

The Assembly Rules Committee, a panel of lawmakers that oversees issues of conduct for the 80-member legislative body, opened an investigation.

In February 2004, the committee placed Weaver-Taylor on paid administrative leave.

In the settlement released Friday, the Assembly agreed to pay Weaver-Taylor $15,000 for legal costs plus $33,943 -- equivalent to six months of after-tax salary and benefits.

Weaver-Taylor agreed to drop her allegations and dismiss her claims against the state.

In addition, she resigned from the Assembly staff effective Dec. 31.

"I'm thrilled that it's finally over," Weaver-Taylor said. "But it's indefensible that it's taken nearly a year for it to come to this conclusion."

Weaver-Taylor speculated that the lawmakers didn't want a settlement publicized before the November election.

Cohn won reelection against Republican Ernest Konnyu.

In campaign ads before the election, the California Republican Party reprinted Cohn's photo from the cover of San Jose magazine, calling it the "most expensive cover shoot in California legislative history."

"We were strung along," Weaver-Taylor said about the timing of the announcement of the settlement. "And in the end, it is clear to me that the result is much more about partisan politics than about right and wrong," she said.

As part of the settlement, Assembly Executive Officer Jon Waldie issued a statement saying: "Under the agreement resolving the matter, the Assembly has denied that it acted inappropriately or unlawfully in any manner. The manner was resolved on an amicable basis so that both the Assembly and Ms. Weaver could put it behind them."

Cohn called it "outrageous" that Weaver-Taylor was paid during what she called the "excessive" time it took to investigate and resolve the complaint.

"It has obviously been a very frustrating time for me and my family," said Cohn, "knowing her charges were without merit and not being able to say anything."

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