Iowa Senate GOP official: Harassment investigation is done
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An investigation into alleged sexual harassment within the Senate Republican caucus of the Iowa Legislature is complete, according to a top official within the office, but there will be no report about it and no information will be shared with the public.
Ed Failor, senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, told The Associated Press on Friday the office completed an internal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment highlighted during a trial this year involving a former staffer.
Failor said additional information cannot be shared publicly because it’s a personnel issue.
“Everybody in personnel has an expectation of privacy ... where they can say what they want to say with an expectation that it’s not going to end up in the newspaper,” he said.
Internal staff within the Senate GOP office conducted the investigation, according to Failor. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds implied several months ago the caucus should seek some type of independent review, but she wasn’t specific.
The investigation’s completion comes amid news the Senate GOP office is working with House Republicans to create a new human resources manager position to oversee harassment complaints at the Legislature. A job description says the person will work independently to investigate complaints, but the position’s structure hasn’t been figured out.
Dix, a Shell Rock Republican, had indicated recently that investigating harassment issues within the office was ongoing. In early August, Reynolds told reporters she was open to the Iowa Department of Administrative Services working with the Senate GOP office to address the issue. Dix then said he was looking into a contract with DAS.
“Once a contractual relationship has been established, DAS will provide those human resources services to the Iowa Senate. I look forward to working with DAS to ensure a safe working environment exists for all employees,” he said in a statement on Aug. 2.
It’s unclear whether Dix meant the agency would conduct an investigation or provide other services. Ultimately, the agency wasn’t contracted.
Discussions about sexual harassment have gained traction in recent weeks around the country, including at statehouses, amid allegations of sexual abuse and harassment that started with film mogul Harvey Weinstein and have spread to include many others. In Iowa, the issue dates back to a lawsuit filed several years ago by Kirsten Anderson, a former communications director for Senate Republicans.
Anderson testified at a trial this year that she was fired in 2013, hours after she complained about sexual harassment in the office. Her supervisors, including Dix, say Anderson was laid off because of poor work performance.
A jury awarded Anderson $2.2 million. She later settled with the state for $1.75 million.
Anderson said she saw Dix by chance at a coffee shop in September and asked him about the status of an investigation into alleged workplace harassment. According to Anderson, Dix told her he couldn’t comment because it was ongoing.
Anderson said she told Dix she would follow up. Now, she has questions. Anderson said she understands privacy concerns, but there’s a lack of transparency in not sharing general information about what was done and what’s being done to make the office better.
“Why all the secrecy?” she asked. “This is the place where our laws are made. The people’s house ... why the secrecy?”
Failor said the Senate Republican office is committed to its employees, and ensuring their privacy is part of that effort.
“We’re trying really hard to do this right,” he said.
Brenna Smith, press secretary for the governor, didn’t answer questions by email about Reynolds’ views on an internal investigation versus an independent one. She provided a statement from the governor.
“Sexual harassment or discrimination will not be tolerated in any level of government. The public deserves to know the whole truth about what happened to Kirsten. If there are any additional facts about her case that have not already been made public, they should be released immediately,” Reynolds said. “I am encouraged by the steps the legislature is taking to ensure a safe work environment by hiring a human resources professional, and that the staffer at the center of the lawsuit resigned and is no longer employed by the caucus staff.”
Reynolds was referencing Jim Friedrich, a policy analyst who was accused of making lewd comments. He resigned in September.
Nicole Bedera, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Michigan whose research focuses on sexual assailants, questioned the independence of an in-house investigation. She said that’s true even if people accused of harassment are no longer working at the statehouse.
“If the allegation is that there’s a climate that is permissive of sexual harassment, that means that everyone in the Legislature needs to be under some scrutiny, not just the people who’ve been named at this point,” she said. “The only way that the entire climate can be under scrutiny is if it’s an external investigation.”
Such a review is happening in California, after its state Senate leader hired outside investigators to look into complaints of widespread harassment. That move came after women at that statehouse — including lawmakers, legislative staff and lobbyists — wrote an open letter alleging pervasive harassment at the California Capitol.