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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 15, 2017

Top Senate Democrat wants sex harassment review released

Petersen says taxpayers have right to know details
By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau | Nov 20, 2017

DES MOINES — The top Democrat in the Iowa Senate called on her GOP counterparts Thursday to make public the findings of their internal review of sexual harassment allegations made by a former employee who was awarded $1.75 million in damages.

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines made the request in separate letters to Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, and Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

“Since the taxpayers are on the hook for this $1.75 million settlement, the findings of this investigation should not be kept secret,” Petersen said in her letters.

“Releasing the findings of your internal investigation would be a first step in making sure the Legislature is a safe and welcoming environment for all employees, protecting Iowa taxpayers and protecting the rights of those who raise concerns about harassment,” Petersen stated.

Dix told reporters Wednesday that an internal probe by his office in conjunction with the Secretary of the Senate has been completed but details would not be made public because interviews conducted with Senate GOP caucus employees were done so under an expectation of confidentiality. He said he did not want to breach that trust.

Workplace rules became an issue at the Statehouse in the wake of the $1.75 million judgment paid to settle a lawsuit brought by Kirsten Anderson, a former Senate Republican Caucus Staff communications director who alleged she was fired hours after complaining of sexual harassment on the job.

In her letter Thursday, Petersen called the outcome a “black eye” for the Legislature.

Dix spokesman Caleb Hunter said Dix and Whitver planned to respond to Petersen.

Dix told reporters Wednesday he is committed to a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to sexual harassment and that he would like to see improved anti-harassment training for senators and their staff members.

To that end, the Senate GOP leader said, he plans to consult with an independent human resources professional on the best course of action going forward.

Across the Statehouse rotunda, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said the Iowa House will proceed separately with the hiring of a human resources director to assist legislative employees, calling the move “the right decision.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds agreed and said she believed results of the Senate Republican internal probe that were not brought out during Anderson’s trial last summer should be made public now.

“I do believe that if there are additional facts that were not brought out through the trial process, being cognizant of personal information, I think that they need to be transparent and open and that they should release that information,” Reynolds said during her weekly news conference. “I think there’s a way to do that, and I think they need to do that.”

Dix said he was not ruling out the possibility of eventually releasing the internal review after consulting with an outside expert, telling reporters, “At a future time, I might reconsider that if an outside organization deems that to be the best thing.”

The Gazette has filed a Freedom of Information request with Dix and Secretary of the Senate Charles Smithson to obtain written documents containing the findings of the internal review involving Senate GOP caucus staff employees.

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