City Attorneys Advise Kevin Johnson Not to Hug People

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Despite the fact that a law firm investigating a sexual harassment claim against Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson found it unsubstantiated, the same law firm wrote a memo to the city attorney warning Johnson should “be advised as to how his actions (i.e. hugging and being flirty) are being perceived by some city employees,” and that he should “refrain from hugging or touching anyone in the workplace or at city-related events.”

The sexual harassment claim, filed last April by Ilee Muller, a former staff aide to City Manager John Shirey, prompted an investigation by the firm Angelo, Kilday & Kilduff. The City Council denied her claim in May; Muller wanted $200,000 in damages from the city.

In her claim, Muller, 33, alleged Johnson asked her to meet him at his private library on City Hall’s fifth floor on December 26, 2013. She claimed Johnson gave her “an unwelcome and close hug, pressing his body against (her), then felt along her torso … pressed his body against hers and asked her if she ‘felt it,’” then tried to kiss her.

Muller also stated Johnson had told her he “had a thing for her” for four years. When she replied that she was married, Johnson “proposed that claimant enter into a sexual relationship with him, asking claimant if she was ‘game.’” After she refused, Muller alleged, Johnson told her he would walk by her desk; the suit stated, “If the answer was ‘yes’ claimant was to give him a thumbs up and if the answer was ‘no,’ a thumbs down.”

In May, Johnson responded to the allegations, saying that the “incident described in the complaint simply never happened. Ever.”

The August 7 memo, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, stated that city human resources manager Kenneth Fleming’s investigation into the matter found “some employees” viewed Johnson’s behavior to require a warning, that he “be counseled to refrain from hugging or touching anyone in the workplace or at work-related events (outside of a hand shake).”

Although the mayor’s office had no comment on Thursday, his campaign spokesman, Steve Maviglio, said, “The mayor has taken sexual harassment training; he’s very aware of what’s appropriate and what’s not,” adding, “Telling a politician not to hug someone is like telling a fisherman not to fish.”

The memo asserted that Shirey, City Clerk Shirley Concolino, and city director of governmental affairs Randi Knott knew of Muller’s complaint, but did not give enough information to the city’s human resources department. The memo suggested “each elected and appointed official who oversees personnel undertake sexual harassment training.” In August, Johnson asked every member of the City Council to undergo sexual harassment training.

Earlier this week, ESPN suddenly canceled the nationwide release of Down in the Valley, a film lauding Johnson’s efforts to keep the Sacramento Kings from moving to Seattle, after a video was released showing a teenage girl Johnson had been accused of molesting nearly 20 years ago.