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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 13, 2017

Iowa Senate harassment deal comes with an apology

State auditor says no place for it in Iowa government
Oct 04, 2017

By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau

 

DES MOINES — Monday’s unanimous decision by the State Appeal Board to approve a $1.75 million settlement with a former state employee came with an apology from State Auditor Mary Mosiman to the women and taxpayers of Iowa that sexual harassment was taking place in state government.

“This should not happen,” said Mosiman, a Republican who chairs the appeal board that agreed 3-0 to pay the settlement to Kirsten Anderson and her attorney.

The deal settles charges of sexual harassment she leveled against Republicans in the Iowa Senate. In July, a jury awarded Anderson $2.2 million after she asserted she had been fired in 2013 only hours after she complained of a “toxic” work environment in the Capitol. The state was appealing the verdict when the settlement was reached.

“As the state auditor, as a fellow woman in public service, I just feel the need to apologize that this was able to happen,” Mosiman told reporters after the vote by her, State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and David Roederer, director of the Iowa Department of Management, to end a legal dispute with Anderson, the former Iowa Senate GOP communications director.

“Harassment, discrimination should not happen in the workplace, specifically in government,” said Mosiman.

A Polk County jury found for Anderson, but then the two sides agreed the state would drop its appeal and pay $1,044.776 to Anderson and $705,224 for legal fees to the law firm representing her to end the case.

“We did our best. We lost the verdict,” said Jeffrey Thompson, solicitor general in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, who advised the appeal board members to approve the compromise and shield the state from further expenses.

“We decided that under the circumstances it was best to resolve the claim,” he said in an interview. “We resolved it for less than the judgment, but we also gave up our right to appeal.”

Anderson — who worked in the Iowa Senate for five years — told jurors she was fired in 2013 about seven hours after she complained to her boss about lewd and sexist behavior she experienced there. Her assertions were backed up by others who also testified.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, contended Anderson was fired for poor work performance. But he told reporters that things he learned from the trial “that I was not aware of” prompted him to have the Secretary of the Senate launch an internal investigation and contract with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services to provide human resources services to the Senate. A Senate Republican Caucus staff employee who was at the center of the lawsuit resigned his Senate job.

Fitzgerald, a Democrat, said he was “outraged and appalled” by the “toxic” work environment that was described during the trial, and he expressed concern that more lawsuits could be forthcoming.

He said the board was offered “a terrible choice” but he voted to approve the settlement to save the state further loss of money.

“This is not something that exists throughout state government. We have a very professional operation through the state government. These are the leaders of our state. People that set the laws, and if we can’t expect them to follow the spirit of the law, we’re in bad shape. I think this is an outrage,” he said.

“I’m appalled that Sen. Dix is not taking responsibility, has not indicated that this won’t happen again — all the things that Iowans would expect,” the treasurer added. “I think the governor should ask for Sen. Dix to step down. Legally, the state is on the hook. I think it would be a very good gesture if the Republicans, because they have a lot of money, would raise it to pay back the Iowa citizens.”

Dix declined to comment on the situation Monday.

In August, GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds backed Republican Senate leaders but called sexual harassment in the workplace “unacceptable” and suggested it would be “healthy” to have an independent investigation to ensure state employees are adopting a “zero tolerance” policy for inappropriate behavior.

During her weekly news conference Monday, the governor reiterated that sexual harassment is not to be tolerated in state government, but she added “let’s stop taking incidents like this and making it a political issue. This is ridiculous.”

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