The California Senate Rules Committee reprimanded a state senator and ordered him not to initiate any more hugs following a sexual harassment investigation into his hugging practices. [Sacramento Bee]
Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles), a former Assembly speaker who has garnered the nickname “Huggy Bear Hertzberg,” received the reprimand and order despite an investigation finding that the motivation for his frequent hugging is not sexual in nature. The investigation also found that most of Hertzberg’s hugs are not unwelcome.
The Senate launched an investigation after former assemblywoman Linda Halderman alleged in December that Hertzberg pinned her in his arms and thrust his groin into her. The alleged encounter occurred in a Capitol hallway shortly after Halderman was elected in 2010. Two sitting lawmakers also came forward with allegations that Hertzberg’s hugs had crossed lines for them as well.
Halderman did not agree to meet with the attorneys the Senate hired to investigate the case. The lawyers ultimately concluded Hertzberg likely hugged Halderman on one occasion, but they did not substantiate complaints that he hugged her multiple times in an unwanted manner or that he did so after she asked him to stop.
Investigators did confirm that Hertzberg intimately hugged a female senator in 2014 on the day she was sworn in. However, he did not repeat the behavior after she told him to stop.
Additionally, attorneys investigating the case concluded that Hertzberg likely backed into a male sergeant-at-arms and grinded against him in an “unwelcome and offensive” manner.
The Senate twice previously counseled Hertzberg about unwanted touching, according to the investigation. Hertzberg was skeptical of the prior complaints and did not come to the understanding that people were genuinely troubled by his hugging, the investigators stated.
“You cannot solve the problem by asking someone if a hug is unwelcome or welcome because a person may not feel comfortable telling you it is unwelcome,” the Senate Rules Committee stated in an open letter to Hertzberg. “Any further similar behavior will result in the Rules Committee recommending more severe discipline.”
Hertzberg responded with a letter of his own that was addressed to friends and colleagues.
“I deeply apologize to anyone who felt my hugs were unwelcome,” Hertzberg wrote. “All my life, a hug has been my way of greeting friends and colleagues — a gesture of warmth and kindness and a reflection of my exuberance. I understand that I cannot control how a hug is received, and that not everyone has the ability to speak up about unwelcome behavior. It is my responsibility to be mindful of this.”
The investigation into Hertzberg’s hugging practices came amid multiple “Me Too” movement cases at the Capitol. In a more controversial case, Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) recently resigned after an outside investigation found he engaged in unwanted flirtatious or sexually suggestive behavior toward six women, four of whom were his subordinates.