AP NEWS

Lawmaker: State officials keeping sexual harassment secrets

March 6, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa lawmaker accused Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration and the director of the state’s human resources agency of “fostering a culture of secrecy in state government” for refusing to release information on the number of sexual harassment cases filed within state agencies in recent years.

Democratic Rep. Amy Nielsen said Wednesday she’s received bureaucratic runaround in her attempts to get the data from Department of Administrative Services Director Janet Phipps. Nielsen said taxpayers have paid out more than $7.5 million in settlements in the past two years and deserve to know if there are other cases that could cost even more.

“I just think we need to come clean and say, yes we have a problem here, this is how bad it is and here’s what we’re doing to fix it,” she said.

Nielsen wants to know the number of cases so they can be compared to future years to determine whether the state is improving its sexual harassment record.

“If we don’t know where we started from, we can’t know if we’re decreasing the occurrences and fixing the culture that’s permeated the statehouse,” she said.

Nielsen sought the number of sexual harassment complaints under investigation, the number of cases closed in the last five fiscal years and the number of cases initiated.

She said DAS refused to provide the information, citing confidentiality, and the attorney general’s office told her to seek the data from the Legislative Services Agency, a nonpartisan state agency that provides the legislature research and data information to lawmakers.

The LSA, however, told Nielsen that even though DAS provided the information, the agency requested it not to be released to her.

A Jan. 25 letter from Phipps to the Legislative Services Agency indicates even the general numbers she seeks are confidential.

“DAS position is that even in aggregated form broken down by fiscal year, publication of this information could potentially compromise a victim’s confidentiality interests,” Phipps wrote in the letter.

Nielsen said what she seeks is not traceable to any individual and should not be confidential, and she called Phipps’ decision not to turn over the information “beyond disappointing.” Nielsen filed a complaint Wednesday with the Iowa Public Information Board.

A spokeswoman for Phipps did not immediately respond to messages. Reynolds’ spokesman said Nielsen is asking for sensitive information that DAS is required to keep confidential under Iowa law.

“Gov. Reynolds is committed to protecting the victims of sexual harassment and their right for confidentiality,” spokesman Pat Garrett said in a statement.

Taxpayers had to pay $1.75 million to Kirsten Anderson, who was fired in 2012 as the Senate Republican caucus communications director hours after handing in a memo detailing rampant sexual harassment in the caucus office. She reached a settlement in September 2017 after winning a jury verdict at trial.

The state also had to pay $4.15 million to two female employees of the Iowa Finance Authority harassed by former Director Dave Jamison, who was fired in March 2018 by Reynolds, and $2 million to former prison guard Kristine Sink, who sued the Iowa Department of Corrections workplace sexual harassment and retaliation.

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