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Senate leaders: Sexual harassment records should be kept private

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Sen. Scott Fitzgerald

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau

The leaders of the state Senate joined their Assembly colleagues Wednesday, saying complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol should be kept confidential.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said their focus is keeping the workplace safe and agreed that records related to sexual harassment complaints or completed investigations should be kept from public view.

“My first job as a senator is to keep people safe. The decision to publicly share deeply personal and often difficult experiences should remain with the victims of sexual assault and harassment,” said Shilling, D-La Crosse. “Anyone who wants to come forward and speak publicly about their own personal story will continue to have my full support.”

Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he has been working with Shilling over the past year and especially this week to update the Senate’s policies on sexual harassment reporting and will soon introduce mandatory training to prevent harassment.

“In the interim, as we discuss internal policy and its intersection with federal and state employment law, I feel that the most appropriate course of action is to keep employees’ conversations with human resources confidential,” Fitzgerald said.

The Wisconsin State Journal has been denied by the Senate and Assembly chief clerks records related to sexual harassment complaints. The State Journal also has requested records with names redacted.

On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said these records should remain private to maintain victims’ privacy and to encourage victims to come forward.

Kara Pennoyer, a spokeswoman for Shilling, emphasized Wednesday that victims of harassment come forward with the understanding that what they say is confidential and work with human resources staff to navigate their situation.

“We have been working with HR to ensure that the hundreds of people who come to work every day in the Capitol have these safety protections in place,” she said.

Open records advocates and some workplace harassment lawyers have said records of harassment investigations at the Capitol should be made public so that taxpayers can determine a lawmaker’s fitness for office.

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