Four sexual harassment complaints filed in Legislature over past 15 years

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Four sexual harassment complaints have been filed in the state Legislature over the past 15 years, including one in the Assembly this year and another years-old case that led to a former senator’s aide getting a $75,000 taxpayer-financed settlement.

Jana Williams, a former aide to then-Dem Sen. Spencer Coggs, did not reach the settlement over her sexual harassment complaint filed with the Legislature, but in a separate case with the Department of Workforce Development.

None of the other complaints resulted in settlements, the chief clerks’ offices in the Senate and Assembly said in response to a WisPolitics.com request.

The most recent complaint was filed this year. But the chief clerks declined to release details on any of the four complaints beyond the year in which they were filed.

WisPolitics.com last month had requested both the number of complaints and dollar value of any settlements reached over the last 15 years, as well as records surrounding disciplinary investigations into complaints alleging sexual harassment or misconduct.

But the latter request was denied by both chief clerks, who each said the release of any sexual harassment records “would have a negative/chilling impact” on those filing complaints.

GOP and Dem leaders in the Senate and Assembly last week voiced support for keeping those complaints confidential, saying it was the best way to protect the victims.

According to the records, the Senate and Assembly have each logged two separate sexual harassment complaints since 2002.

For the Senate, those were in 2009 and 2011, while the Assembly’s were in 2014 and 2017.

According to the Senate chief clerk’s office, Williams filed her complaint in 2009. She was fired following the 2010 elections after Dems lost control of the chamber and had to reduce staff.

She later filed a complaint with the Equal Rights Division in 2011 over her termination, alleging she was discriminated against and Coggs made an unspecified sexually suggestive remark.

The agency ruled most of the allegations she raised fell outside the allowed window for filing a complaint. The ERD also ruled there was no probable cause to support allegations Williams made about other alleged incidents that fell within the allowed time frame and found there was no evidence Coggs engaged in or permitted sexual harassment in his office.

But in 2015, an administrative law judge ruled probable cause existed to believe the state Legislature violated the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act by failing to prevent the sexual harassment of Williams. At the time, Judge Deborah Cohn encouraged the parties to use mediation to resolve the matter.

Williams separately filed a complaint with the old Government Accountability Board accusing Coggs of hiring a Capitol staffer to largely to work on his lt. guv campaign and had other employees in his office attend to personal family matters, including helping his wife’s business. The agency eventually dismissed the complaint.

The records from the Assembly chief clerk’s office did not include any information about who filed the complaints or the targets.

Still, former Rep. Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, was the subject of a complaint in 2014, according to records released at the time by the Assembly chief clerk. That complaint followed a GOP fundraising trip in February 2014 to Washington, D.C. He later did not seek re-election after facing separate sexual assault charges.

And while the Capital Times last week reported two women alleged Rep. Josh Zepnick had kissed them without their consent at separate political events in 2011 and 2015, the publication reported neither woman pursued complaints against the Milwaukee Dem.

See the settlement:
http://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/171204Settlement.pdf

See more in Monday’s PM Update:
http://www.wispolitics.com/2017/mon-pm-update-four-sexual-harassment-complaints-filed-in-legislature-over-past-15-years/

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