California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia was cleared Thursday after an investigation by the Assembly failed to substantiate allegations that she groped a male legislative staffer while intoxicated.
Garcia, a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement, has been on a voluntary leave of absence since Feb. 9, after Daniel Fierro claimed that a visibly intoxicated Garcia grabbed his buttocks and tried to grab his crotch after a 2014 softball game when he was a 25-year-old staffer for another lawmaker.
A spokesman for Garcia said she plans to return to work Monday.
"Earlier today I learned that the allegations of unwanted sexual harassment against me were found to be unsubstantiated," Garcia told The Sacramento Bee Thursday in a statement. "I look forward to returning to work and getting back to the business of representing my constituents."
Fierro told the Bee that the investigation's determination was "disappointing" and said "it still leaves serious questions."
He has 10 days in which he can appeal the decision. He said it was "incredibly inappropriate" that Garcia, "a sitting member of the Assembly would jump ahead of an established appeal process and release information before it was appropriate."
Before the allegations were made against her, Garcia told fellow members of the Assembly who were accused of harassment that she would not work with people who engage in abusive behavior.
Although she immediately denied the accusations, Garcia said she would step down while the investigation ran its course because, "as I’ve said before, any claims about sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard of accountability."
Garcia is not totally in the clear, however. Investigators did substantiate allegations that she routinely used vulgar language around staffers, had staff run personal errands and made derogatory remarks about other lawmakers.
In March, Garcia admitted that she had referred to then-Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez as a "homo" in 2013. She apologized for using the term in "a moment of anger."
Attorney Dan Gilleon is representing four former Garcia staffers who accuse her of creating a "toxic environment" in her office.
A letter to Gilleon from Debra Gravert, the Assembly's chief administrative officer, told him "three of the complaints you presented on behalf of your clients were substantiated," the Bee reported. "Based upon those findings, the Assembly has taken appropriate remedial measures with respect to Assemblymember Garcia designed to prevent this or similar behavior in the future."
In her statement, Garcia said, "I would like to sincerely apologize to my colleagues in the Legislature, my staff and most importantly to the residents of the 58th Assembly District for instances where my use of language was less than professional."
Garcia is running for re-election and faces a June 5 primary against six Democrats and one Republican. The two highest vote-getters will move on to the November election.
Contributing: The Associated Press