Sexual Harassment Complaints Against Sebastian Ridley-Thomas Substantiated In Investigation

FILE: The state capitol is shown on Jan. 5, 2006 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

An outside investigator substantiated four allegations of sexual harassment against former state Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, according to documents released Wednesday by the California Assembly.

The allegations were made by two separate Assembly employees in October and November 2017, before Ridley-Thomas resigned on Dec. 31 of that year, citing health issues. He represented the 54th Assembly District, which includes Century City, Culver City, Westwood, Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw, and West Los Angeles.

The investigation by an independent attorney — Vida Thomas with the firm Stoel Rives LLP — followed allegations of sexual misconduct that emerged in the wake of the #MeToo movement, roiling the Legislature.

Details of the investigation were provided to LAist by the Assembly Committee on Rules, along with a letter dated Dec. 19, 2018 from Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to Ridley-Thomas, in which he warned the assemblyman against retaliating against the complainants.

One allegation describes a dinner to which Ridley-Thomas had invited an employee. "[H]e wanted to meet me for dinner...He said he had always been obsessed with me, didn't I know that?...It made me very uncomfortable."

The heavily-redacted document includes allegations about the end of the dinner. "He tried to put his tongue in my mouth. I could feel his erect penis on my leg. I told him I wasn't interested."

The complaint alleges Ridley-Thomas called the employee's cell phone "several times" following the incident, and that he also texted the employee.

Investigators substantiated the allegation that Ridley-Thomas made the unwanted sexual advance in August 2016 and that he attempted afterward to contact the employee.

A separate Assembly staffer alleged that in early 2016, Ridley-Thomas shook and held her hand and winked at her "in a manner that made her uncomfortable." Those allegations were also substantiated.

The investigation regarded a complaint as substantiated if "it is more likely than not that this conduct occurred." The Legislature began releasing some details of substantiated cases of sexual harassment last year.

Two allegations against Ridley-Thomas are completely redacted in the documents, suggesting that they may not have been substantiated by the investigator.

Ridley-Thomas strongly denied the claims made by his accusers, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by his attorney, Nancy Sheehan. The statement challenged the investigation's conclusions:

"It defied any definition of due process and objectivity, did not comply with the Assembly's own policies, and the outcome is tainted by the knowledge that the process was used for retaliatory purposes."

Ridley-Thomas is the son of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, among the most influential politicians in Southern California. Following the younger Ridley-Thomas' resignation from the Assembly, he took a position as a professor of social work and public policy at the University of Southern California, while also enrolling as a student. The unusual hire followed a six-figure donation from a campaign fund controlled by his father.

The university brought the matter of the donation to the attention of the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.

USC fired the younger Ridley-Thomas, and he subsequently filed a complaint with the Department of Education that his personal information had been inappropriately disclosed to the Los Angeles Times. The university denied the allegations, according to the Daily Trojan.

Because the former assemblyman resigned his seat, there are no actions the Legislature can take against him, according to Kevin Liao, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Rendon.

New personnel policies regarding legislative employee complaints will go into effect next month, Liao said.

Mary Plummer contributed to this report.