ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State officials revealed Friday they had paid out $709,500 to settle seven sexual harassment complaints in the executive branch since just 2015, including an $117,500 payout to a woman who accused a state investigative officer of sexually assaulting her while working for him as a confidential drug informant.
Those payouts came alongside a new report on the state’s sexual harassment policies ordered by Gov. Mark Dayton in November, after two state lawmakers were accused of sexual harassment. Both men later resigned.
In all, that review discovered 266 sexual harassment complaints were filed between 2012 and 2017 at the state’s 23 executive agencies. More than half were substantiated after an investigation, while more than 40 percent were either found to be unsubstantiated, withdrawn or dropped after the employee who reported harassment left his or her job. And because each agency sets its own training procedures and handles complaints individually, just 56 percent of the state’s 33,000 employees have received sexual harassment training — though Minnesota Management and Budget Commission Myron Frans said all supervisors have been trained.
But the report also lays out a roadmap to improve the state’s policies by establishing an independent office to handle such complaints and boosting sexual harassment training.
Dayton responded quickly, saying he’d propose a statewide clearinghouse to receive and investigate complaints when lawmakers return to the Capitol in February, saying it would ensure “stronger protections against sexual harassment, more immediate responses to complaints, and more consistent consequences for offenders.”
“All state employees must be provided with the information, support, and protections they need to report acts of sexual harassment in the workplace,” Dayton said in a statement.
Minnesota has been at the center of a nationwide reckoning with sexual harassment in the workplace. In a span of just a few weeks, two state lawmakers — Republican Rep. Tony Cornish and Democratic Sen. Dan Schoen — and U.S. Sen. Al Franken resigned from public office after a storm of sexual misconduct allegations from several women.
The report — and the governor’s plans to address the issues with sexual harassment it laid out — won’t extend to the Legislature or state courts, separate branches of government that set their own policies.
And while some lawmakers and advocates have called for a task force to study similar steps at the Legislature, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka on Friday batted away that suggestion, saying it would be better handled internally through Senate Council and Human Resources. Gazelka said he ordered a review of the Senate’s own sexual harassment policies and said all 67 senators would receive training by March.
In conjunction with the report, the state released seven settlements reached in sexual harassment complaints between 2015 and 2017, totaling $709,500 — the only such settlements dating back to at least 2012, officials said.
Among the largest settlements was an $117,500 payout to a woman identified only as Jane Doe, a former confidential informant for the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who worked with an agency officer on several drug busts. In a federal lawsuit filed in 2014, the woman alleged the officer sexually assaulted her in his car, tried to coerce her to have sex with him, attempted to rape her and later coerced her into sending him nude pictures of himself by threatening not to help her with her immigration status.
The officer did not admit to wrongdoing in the settlement. He was suspended without pay for 30 days and was demoted from senior special agent to special agent, but was allowed to return to the special investigations unit, according to the state. The officer no longer works with informants.
“Clearly, we’d like that number to be zero,” Frans said, adding it reinforces the need for more widespread training and uniform reporting procedures to reduce the scope of any harassment and limit potentially costly court battles. “There’s no place in our workplace for sexual harassment.”
The Legislature has not disclosed any sexual harassment settlements involving lawmakers. Unlike Minnesota’s executive branch, the Legislature is not subject to the state’s open records law.
Friday’s report broke down the number of complaints by agency and revealed several potentially problematic departments with higher-than-expected rates of complaints, including the Department of Corrections, Department of Public Safety and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. A statewide high 73 sexual harassment complaints were filed by employees of the state’s main prison operator between 2012 and 2017 — 40 of which were substantiated after an investigation.
That includes a 2016 complaint that a male nurse at St. Cloud’s prison asked a female co-worker to submit to an unnecessary electrocardiogram, forcing her to remove her shirt and unhook her bra, telling the woman: “Make sure you don’t tell anyone.” The man was later fired.
Frans said the state will work more closely with those agencies and others, saying some work environments are more challenging or more “male-dominated.”
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