ABC 6 NEWS INVESTIGATES - Your Money and Sexual Harassment

February 25, 2018 11:33 PM

(ABC 6 News) --  Numerous stories from all over the country this past year have drawn attention to sexual harassment.

The ABC 6 News team put the state of Minnesota under a microscope when it comes to those types of claims and settlements, and dug deeper to see how local lawmakers are addressing the issue.


"It has been covered up it has been swept under the rug," Minnesota State Senator Carla Nelson said.

 Over the last 6 years, Minnesota has spent $709,500 on seven sexual harassment settlements involving state employees.

"Because a lot of discussions sometimes 'oh that's the way he's always been' or 'yeah we've known about that for a long time,'" Minnesota State Representative Jeanne Poppe said.

And even though each complaint tells a different story, they all contain similar facts surrounding their victims.

One case from the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2016 said the plaintiff was repeatedly screamed at, spanked, and threatened by her colleague. The record also states she was told she “didn't deserve her job or her life.”

Another report from 2014 describes in vivid detail how an employee with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension withheld his assistance on a woman's immigration status because she refused his frequent and forceful sexual advances.

"It's alarming, it's stunning the level of inappropriate behavior and how people think that they can get by with it," Poppe said.

In addition to the money spent on settlement cases, since 2012 Minnesota has also received 266 sexual harassment complaints; 135 of those have been substantiated. The Department of Corrections is responsible for most of those with 40 substantiated complaints.

"And of course that's happening at the Minnesota legislature, of course, we've not been immune from this, from the bad behavior in that regard," Nelson said.  

Just a few months ago Minnesota State Senator Dan Schoen and House Representative Tony Cornish resigned due to multiple harassment accusations. Now the legislature is requiring everyone to take sexual harassment training, which started Wednesday. Poppe said it's a move in the right direction.

"That's one thing I think that can be done is to help educate people, help them to understand what that means, what is appropriate, what's inappropriate," Poppe said.

And some legislators are even stepping in to combat how these cases are handled.

"I do not believe that we should be using state dollars to settle sexual harassment cases," Nelson said.

Nelson presented a bill during Tuesday's opening legislative session called the "Government Transparency and Accountability Bill."
"That actually will require one, transparency so that taxpayers are at least aware of those sexual harassment settlements, and secondly, so there's some accountability in there," Nelson said.

Part of the intention is so more money stays in your wallet.

"Transparency, light allows people to be aware of what the government is doing with their taxpayer dollars and I think that public opinion actually moves decisions," Nelson said.

Legislators this is a start, but all people should feel safe at their jobs and the victims should not be kept silent.

"The public will not stand for state governments or government that uses taxpayer dollars to hush or settle sexual harassment suits, and we just need to codify that in law," Nelson said.

"Hopefully we get to a point where we feel as though we've done what we need to do to make [Minnesota] the best place to work or interact with people," Poppe said.

As a response to that sexual harassment training, some legislators say they’re not happy with it. DFL Representative Erin Maye Quade told the Saint Paul Pioneer Press it seemed like victims were being told it's their responsibility to tell harassers when they're being inappropriate.

Nelson added that her bill’s first hearing this upcoming week.


Elise Romas

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