DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Several Republican staff members in the Iowa Senate said they’re unlikely to report sexual harassment or workplace misconduct because of fear of retaliation, according to an internal investigation conducted after jurors sided with a former staffer who said sexually suggestive comments helped create a toxic work environment.
The investigation determined senators made “sexually suggestive comments” or discussed “sexual preferences” on the chamber floor in recent years, according to a three-page report released Friday summarizing the investigation. No details about the specific comments or who made them were included in the heavily redacted report.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix released the brief report after being pressured by fellow Republicans, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, to provide general information about the in-house investigation. The investigation was launched this summer after several Senate Republican staff members testified during a trial that they had witnessed sexual misconduct by lawmakers and fellow staffers in recent years that primarily involved inappropriate comments.
The internal investigation spanned a period of time between the end of 2012 and mid-2017. The report noted that most Senate GOP staff members declined to give specific information, including names. A letter from a law firm that accompanied the report cited Iowa law for the redactions.
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At least one alleged incident occurred during the 2017 legislative session. It was categorized as someone making a sexually suggestive comment in a “senate floor environment.” Another incident, described as occurring prior to the 2017 session, involved sexually suggestive comments surrounding proposed legislation on dense breast tissue. No other details were provided.
The report noted that several Senate Republican staff members also indicated they feared retaliation in reporting workplace misbehavior.
“Further, they would be unlikely to report any future incidents, should they arise due to this fear,” the report said, but noted that other staffers said they were comfortable reporting potential harassment.
The findings said previous and current harassment prevention training was “ineffective,” and there was confusion among staff about the phrase “zero tolerance policy” regarding harassment.
Dix, a Shell Rock Republican, said in a statement that more would be done to improve workplace conditions, though he offered no specifics about what Senate GOP leaders planned to do next.
“As this review shows, the workplace culture needs to improve, it can improve, and with a lot of hard work, it will improve,” he said.
Dix announced on Tuesday that Mary Kramer, a former state senator with human resources experience, would voluntarily advise the Senate on “workplace culture,” though the extent of her work hasn’t been detailed and it’s unclear if it will include Democrats. Dix’s office has also declined to say whether it still plans to hire an independent group to review the office; Dix said this month that he expected a bidding process.
The trial earlier this year involved a lawsuit filed by Kirsten Anderson, a former communications director for the Senate Republican caucus. Anderson said she was fired in 2013, hours after reporting a toxic workplace that included sexually suggestive comments from others.
A jury awarded Anderson $2.2 million, and the state later settled for $1.75 million. Dix maintains Anderson was fired for poor work performance.
A former staffer in the Senate GOP office who was accused during the trial of making inappropriate comments resigned in September. Dix has refused to say why the ex-staffer left.
Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, a Des Moines Democrat, said the report released Friday “paints a picture of an environment in the Iowa Senate that will lead to more lawsuits against Republicans Senators and staff unless dramatic changes are made.”