OC Democratic Party, Labor Federation Officials Accused of Sexual Harassment and Abuse

A former Orange County Democratic Party official and a high-ranking member of the Orange County Labor Federation have been accused of sexual harassment and abuse, amid a national scandal in which women from New York to Hollywood and the state capitol have come forward with reports of sexual wrongdoing.

A campaign staffer for Democratic Congressional candidate Phil Janowicz resigned Friday over allegations he sexually harasssed women while an employee of the Democratic Party of Orange County, according to a campaign news release. Janowicz is running against Republican Ed Royce.

One woman, a former Democratic Party employee, wrote on Facebook “my fault was remaining silent as I exited the Democratic Party of Orange County after every single female intern at the time had confided in me of an instance when a senior member of the executive board crossed the line with them – even with interns who were minors.

“No matter how friendly this person was, it is inappropriate for someone in such a position to question an underage intern about her sex life, make comments to other young interns about how good they look, send sexually explicit pictures, or caress someone’s thighs,” the same woman wrote in a separate post.

As part of the #metoo campaign – a social media campaign started by actress Alyssa Milano aimed at raising awareness of sexual harassment and assault – several women posted accounts on Facebook of harassment that allegedly occurred when they were employees or interns at the Democratic Party and Labor Federation.

Those posts also prompted a press release by the chairwoman of the Orange County Young Democrats, Danielle Serbin, which called on both organizations to “call out the harassers, name them and shame them, and remove them from positions of power in our community.”

“Specifically, women are speaking out about men in power at the Democratic Party of Orange County and/or the Orange County Labor Federation who have tried to undress young women in the workplace, sent young women pornographic images and memes, and joked about porn with young interns,” the press release, which did not name the men, stated.

The OC Weekly first reported the allegations on Wednesday. 

The allegations come amid a national discussion about sexual misconduct after the New York Times reported allegations that Hollywood film producer and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted numerous women for more than two decades.

Earlier this week, more than 140 women in California politics, including legislators, lobbyists, consultants and capitol staff, signed a letter calling out the “pervasive” culture of sexual harassment in California politics.

Serbin told the Orange County Register that in 2015 at the Democratic Party headquarters, “one of the men allegedly touched a woman’s thigh, prompting her to flee to safety in a supply closet where he cornered her.”

“In other incidents, the same man allegedly pushed his body against the woman and reached under her skirt and tried to remove her underwear,” the Register reported.

Reached Thursday for comment, Serbin said the group “continues to stand by the brave women” who have come forward but declined to discuss the issue further “out of sensitivity to this subject and our members.”

Fran Sdao, chairwoman of the Democratic Party, declined to name the accused official and said that person is no longer employed by the party.

“If this had happened under my watch and had been brought to my attention, I could have done something about it and we would have taken action,” Sdao said.

Sdao said the party has contacted an attorney and plans to conduct an investigation of the allegations. She also said the party plans to conduct trainings for its volunteers.

“We have to make them aware of what is inappropriate behavior. And if they feel they are subject to that, there are avenues for them to report it where they can feel comfortable and safe,” Sdao said.

An official with the Orange County Labor Federation did not return a request for comment Thursday.

Jennifer Beuthin, the general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, said the labor movement is “not immune” to problems with sexual misconduct.

The Orange County Employees Association is a major funder to Voice of OC.

“So as a woman who leads a union in the Orange County labor movement, and that’s an affiliate union to the OC Labor Federation, I have been working since this information came out on making sure that the Labor Federation takes these allegations seriously,” Beuthin said. “And that we conduct a thorough investigation that will result in taking appropriate action when that inquiry is done.”

Sdao said that it “probably never occurred to anybody” at the party to put procedures in place to prevent sexual misconduct.

“We have more women in leadership now, whether that would make a difference or not, I don’t know,” Sdao said. “We’re more sensitive to these things but you know — It’s unfortunate. It’s horrible.”

In her statement, Serbin called on victims of assault to come forward.

“We understand that you did not speak up in the past out of fear, because these influential men could impact your future professional goals and dreams,” Serbin wrote.

“There is no doubt that the brave stories coming from the #metoo campaign are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexual harassment in OC politics.”

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.