DECEMBER 4, 2017, 11:00 AM. SACRAMENTO, CA.
Pamela Lopez, a Sacramento lobbyist, filed a report today with the California Assembly Rules Committee formally naming Assembly Member Matt Dababneh as the legislator she reported had masturbated in front of her after he followed her into a bathroom at a Las Vegas party venue where most of the invited guests were political professionals. (A link to Lopez’s report is available below.) Dababneh, 36, represents the 45th Assembly District, located in the West San Fernando Valley. Lopez, 35, is a registered lobbyist and partner in a firm that advocates for clients on issues related to equity and public interest. A second woman with sexual harassment allegations against Dababneh joined Lopez at a Sacramento press conference where the filing was announced.
Lopez, who has not publicly named the alleged perpetrator until today, first disclosed the incident to the New York Times in mid-October. In explaining the reasons why she did not identify Assembly Member Dababneh earlier, Lopez said, “I was not only afraid that I would be retaliated against or shunned by colleagues, but I also did not believe that the legislature’s system for investigating and disciplining legislators and staff in cases of sexual harassment was trustworthy.” In the letter Lopez sent to Assembly Member Ken Cooley, Chair of the Assembly Rules Committee, she wrote: “At the November 28th hearing held by the Assembly Rules Subcommittee on Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation Prevention and Response, you encouraged women to step forward with a promise that perpetrators would be held accountable. I still fear that I will be retaliated against. But I am stepping forward.”
Jessica Yas Barker, 34, the second woman who identified Dababneh as having engaged in sexual harassment, worked for the Assembly Member when he was District Director of the state office of a California Congressman. In a statement delivered at the press conference, Barker said that during the eighteen months she worked for him, Dababneh shared stories of his alleged sexual prowess, talked about sexual exploits and made a show of a stash of condoms he kept in a desk drawer. Barker, now a Democratic club leader in the San Fernando Valley, says she started looking for a new job after just a year because the sexualized work environment did not abate. Barker explained the reasons that she did not take action at the time. “I felt that there was no recourse within the political institution because it was generally accepted that this was just ‘how he was,’ and that nothing would change.”
On Friday, an attorney for Dababneh sent Lopez a “cease and desist” letter, demanding she not speak with the press or continue to make allegations, which the lawyer characterized as “false.” Leslie Levy, a partner with Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, the firm representing Lopez wrote back today, stating that “Dababneh’s threat to sue Ms. Lopez for damage to his reputation is the kind of intimidation that keeps many sexual harassment victims silent.” The letter goes on to state that “truth is an absolute defense to any claim of defamation” and that “Ms. Lopez will vigorously assert this defense.”
According to Jean Hyams, also a partner at Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams, “How the Assembly responds to Ms. Lopez’ report is a test of whether it is a body governed by law, or one that considers itself above the law. If the state legislature is serious about ending sexual harassment, we would expect to see a full investigation. That means not only talking to Ms. Lopez but also seeking out other victims. Ultimately, there need to be consequences. Zero tolerance cannot mean zero consequences. ”
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A complete copy of Ms. Lopez’ report to the Assembly Rules Committee is available here: lopez report to assembly rules committee