State employees in the last five years have been disciplined for asking a co-worker for her underwear and naked photos, for giving a gift to a co-worker, for slapping a co-worker’s buttocks at a convention and for sending a sexually explicit text message, among other alleged behavior.
The discipline leveled for the alleged sexual harassment and misconduct included requiring letters of apology, reprimands, a suspension and, in one case, termination, according to records released recently by the state Department of Administration.
In another case, records indicate an assistant district attorney who was accused of grabbing a co-worker’s breasts and placing the co-worker’s hand on his crotch resigned amid an investigation into the allegations.
The records were released to the Wisconsin State Journal in response to a request by the newspaper in November under the state’s open records law amid increased scrutiny on how government institutions address complaints of sexual harassment.
The cases involve employees of the state Capitol Police Department, the Department of Financial Institutions, two district attorneys offices, DOA Facilities Management and the Department of Tourism.
Though the State Journal sought records for the last decade, state law requires DOA to keep such records for only five years, according to DOA Chief Legal Counsel Christopher Green.
Green also noted that DOA’s records were not comprehensive, and that other agencies may have imposed discipline on their own. The State Journal is not naming the individuals involved since they were not charged with crimes and, in most cases, it is not known if they challenged the discipline.
In one case, a former Capitol Police employee was reprimanded in 2012 for repeatedly asking a female co-worker to send him photos of herself without clothing and for threatening to go to her home and take a pair of her underwear, among other behavior the co-worker alleged. He also took the co-worker’s phone, she alleged, and somehow obtained a sexually explicit video of the co-worker. The co-worker said the situation gave her anxiety and she feared seeing the employee at work.
The employee disputed the co-worker’s characterization of their relationship and showed human resources officials a photo he took of the co-worker’s stomach at work to document what it looked like before pregnancy and another he said she sent him to show him what she looked like with make-up on. He said his requests for nude photos were taken out of context and characterized the requests as a joke between them.
Police investigated the matter and couldn’t determine how he obtained the video, according to the records. Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said regardless of whether the two had a friendship or the employee was joking, the man’s behavior was “discourteous, disrespectful, inappropriate for the workplace and unprofessional.” The employee also was ordered to go through training to prevent sexual harassment.
In 2014, a Department of Tourism employee was suspended for five days without pay, required to take eight hours of respectful behavior training and ordered to write an apology to a woman whose buttocks he slapped at a convention in front of other convention attendees. He also agreed not to discuss the agreement with co-workers, the public or reporters. In his apology, the man said he was “deeply sorry” for embarrassing the woman, and said his actions were inappropriate and immature.
In another 2014 case, DOA human resources officials found there was no probable cause to believe sexual harassment occurred between two state custodians who allegedly engaged in sexual contact in a lawmaker’s Capitol office after hours, despite an allegation by one that the encounter was not consensual.
In 2016, a northern Wisconsin assistant district attorney was ordered to write a letter of apology for directing a comment at a colleague using the phrase “eye candy” while at work. Also that year, an Executive Residence employee was reprimanded for sending a sexually explicit text message to a co-worker. The man told human resources officials the message was likely accidentally sent to the co-worker either through an autocorrect error or was a text intended for his wife as a joke about their cats.
In another case, a DFI employee’s one-year probationary employment was terminated in 2017 on grounds that he sexually harassed a co-worker by sending text messages and emails, telling her she was cute, giving her a gift and touching her shoulder.
Flirting, or assault?
In 2012, an assistant district attorney in northeastern Wisconsin resigned after a co-worker alleged he repeatedly sexually harassed her by making inappropriate comments to her, touched her breasts, pulled down her shirt and put her hand on his crotch.
The prosecutor disputed many of the co-worker’s allegations, according to the records, and said she initiated flirtatious behavior and brushed her breasts against him. He also said he accidentally touched her chest because he was reaching for a file she was holding close, and that she offered him an invitation to come to her home, which he did not accept. He said a mutual flirtatious relationship that included touching developed, but that it quickly ended and he told his wife about the situation.
The co-worker disputed his characterization of the situation, and said she never invited him to her home.
The prosecutor submitted his retirement notice just before the investigation concluded, records show. Two years later, he was hired as an assistant district attorney in another county.
DOA spokesman Steve Michels said a law championed by Gov. Scott Walker and passed in 2016 strengthened the state’s ability to fire state employees who are found to be harassing or intentionally inflicting physical harm in the work place.
He said sexually harassing co-workers now may lead to termination, whereas before the law passed, it likely would not.
Michels also said new state employees now attend training aimed at preventing sexual harassment and discrimination, and that the last state budget allowed state agencies to streamline human resources services, which helped standardize behavior expectations across state agencies.