California Democrats settle lawsuits alleging harassment

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California Democratic Party announced Friday that it reached settlements in a trio of lawsuits that alleged its former chair engaged in a pattern of misconduct, discrimination and unwanted sexual advances.

The settlements with several former party staffers and a Democratic activist closed a chapter in an embarrassing scandal for state Democrats that centered on the behavior of former party leader Eric Bauman, a sometimes brusque figure with roots in New York City. He resigned in 2018 amid allegations he drank on the job and sexually harassed and abused staff.

A three-sentence statement released by the party did not acknowledge any specific wrongdoing by Bauman but said the party reached “equitable settlements” with several former staffers and an activist.

One case involving three of the plaintiffs, — former party spokesman John Vigna, former operations director Tina McKinnor and activist Spencer Dayton — was settled for over $1 million, said a person with knowledge of the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly about the financial payments.

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Rusty Hicks, who heads the state party, said in a statement that “some of the California Democratic Party’s most sacred values are fairness, respect and dignity for all.”

Bauman, in a statement issued by his lawyer, said he was pleased with the settlements and agreed with Hicks’ affirmation of the party’s core values.

With the resolution of the cases, “I am pleased that we can all move forward and focus our collective energy” on elevating Democrats in the 2020 elections, he added.

Settlements were also reached with William Floyd, a former Bauman assistant, and Brendan Stepp, a video editor who worked for the party.

Democrats dominate politics in California, controlling every statewide office. The party also commands both chambers of the Legislature, holds a 46-7 edge in congressional seats and counts a more than four million edge in voter registrations.

In settling the cases, the party appeared eager to leave behind the scandal that could have proved a distraction in a year when Democrats hope to pad their strength in the state and in Washington. President Donald Trump lost California by over 4 million votes in 2016.

“Moving forward together, we collectively reaffirm a steadfast commitment to our party’s values to win in 2020,” said Hicks, the party chair.

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