DES MOINES — A former state senator with human relations expertise issued a set of recommendations Friday to help legislators better address complaints of sexual harassment at the Statehouse in the wake of a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement with a former Senate GOP staffer.
Mary Kramer, who previously served as the Iowa Senate’s president, provided a framework for creating and maintaining a safe, respectful and professional workplace in the Iowa Senate after being enlisted last fall by Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, to conduct an internal review.
"It behooves the Iowa Legislature to take the matter seriously and to act quickly,” Kramer said in a letter made public Friday. “While a review of the overall policies and procedures regarding employment and engagement is appropriate, the issue of harassment is clearly urgent and compelling.
“As of now, there is nothing that has changed to prevent additional inappropriate behavior and ensuing problems. It is my hope these policies will be reviewed, edited and adopted immediately,” Kramer added. “I am encouraged and truly believe that now is the time to act to make that safe, respectful and professional workplace at the Iowa Capitol a reality.”
Workplace rules became an issue at the Statehouse in the wake of a $1.75 million judgment paid last year to settle a lawsuit brought by Kirsten Anderson, a former Senate Republican caucus staff communications director who asserted she was fired in 2013 hours after complaining of sexual harassment on the job.
Kramer said she was dismayed by Anderson’s allegations and concluded there was a need for “culture reform” in the Iowa Senate in accepting Dix’s invitation to serve as an unpaid adviser.
Earlier this week, Republicans who run the Iowa Legislature announced that Kate Murphy of Ankeny will begin work Jan. 22 as director of human resources to help make corrective changes. Murphy, a senior professional in human resources and a certified public manager, has worked as an administrator in the state Department of Transportation since 2006 and has been involved in human resources management and administration in the public and private sectors.
Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said Murphy will help legislative branch officials take “a fresh look” at updating policies and procedures related to sexual harassment and serve as a resource if someone is experiencing problems in the Statehouse work environment.
Earlier this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke about sexual harassment in her Condition of the State address, calling for an end to the “destructive force” of sexual harassment.
“It must stop,” Reynolds said, adding praise for women who have found courage to speak out about the “stain on our culture.”
In her letter, Kramer said for any policy to work there must be a shared goal involving legislators of both parties, legislative staff, lobbyist and media that is publicly articulated at the beginning of each legislative session. All legislative branch employees and elected officials would be required to receive training on what constitutes inappropriate behavior and acknowledge in writing that they understand the guidelines.
“Expectations must be clear before accountability and discipline can be forthcoming,” Kramer said in her letter.
Also, Kramer recommended legislative policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior have “a clear path” for filing complaints — not limited to employees — with assurance they will be investigated in a fair and impartial manner without retaliation.
“This requires the establishment of a formal complaint process that guarantees a fair and impartial investigation, that assures confidentiality with explicit prohibition of retaliation,” she wrote, with the process involving an immediate supervisor, elected leaders or a newly hired legislative-branch human resource officer.
“Anyone who is designated to hear complaints is obligated to investigate,” she said. “All complaints must be subject to timely investigation, to be outlined in the policy. In some best practice policies, 24 hours is considered an appropriate amount of time for an investigation to take place. In others up to a week is acceptable.”
Employees, where complaints of harassment are founded, would be subject to discipline up to and including termination. Senators who are named would subject to a formal complaint filed with the Ethics Committee. Kramer recommended the committee immediately clarify its current processes for filing and handling ethics complaints and establish a specific process that assures a fair and impartial investigation of harassment complaints.
Complaints involving media and lobbyists should be reported to their employer or organization with recommended appropriate action, Kramer added in her recommendations.