SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California lawmaker who took a paid leave of absence until the end of the month won’t be allowed to return while investigators look into allegations that he acted inappropriately toward young women working in his office.
Democratic Sen. Tony Mendoza of Artesia had planned to return to work next week despite the ongoing investigation. He’s refused demands by many of his colleagues to stay away from the Capitol during the probe.
A Senate panel on Thursday extended his suspension for 60 more days or until the investigation concludes. The committee also restricted his access to the Capitol and legislative resources.
Mendoza is accused of behaving inappropriately toward three young women who worked for him, including by inviting one to his home and offering another alcohol when she was underage. Sexual misconduct at the Capitol broke open last fall when women who work there signed an open letter saying it is pervasive. Two Assembly lawmakers resigned.
Mendoza, though, has denied wrongdoing. He sent a letter to senators Thursday saying the investigation process is arbitrary and opaque.
“Remember, what is happening to me could happen to you,” he wrote.
In statements provided by a spokesman, Mendoza said the Senate has treated him unfairly. He suggested he is not accepting the extended leave, saying he’s awaiting a response to an offer to discuss his return date.
The Rules Committee’s 5-0 vote to extend Mendoza’s leave was enabled by a rule change adopted following a tense debate moments earlier in the full Senate.
Republican Sen. Joel Anderson of Alpine said the allegations against Mendoza are serious but the full Senate, not the committee, should have voted on suspension.
Other Republicans warned that changing the rules could allow the Rules panel to arbitrarily extend leaves of absence taken by other lawmakers in the future.
One of his former staff members filed a formal complaint with the state alleging she was fired for reporting his behavior, the Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday.
Under intense pressure from his fellow Democrats, he agreed in early January to take leave for the rest of the month but was later spotted at the Capitol and events in his Los Angeles-area district.