Two state lawmakers and a Minnesota U.S. senator resigned from their jobs last year in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and improper conduct. New data show that the legislative branch is not the only state government area with workplace behavior problems.
Despite an anti-sexual harassment policy being in place for more than 20 years, a recent study documents continuing problems within state government agencies. Conducted by the state’s Management and Budget (MMB) agency and a governor-appointed task force, the report offers data about the number and type of reported harassment incidents. It also recommends policy changes that merit support by the Legislature.
Released last week, the report shows that 266 complaints of sexual harassment were received between 2012 and 2017. Of the total, 135 were substantiated and most were resolved out of court. However, in some cases victims sued the state. And those legal actions resulted in payments totaling more than $700,000 to settle seven cases filed by female employees who claimed that the harassment or inappropriate behavior was not addressed when they complained.
In November, the Star Tribune requested specific state information on settlements, payouts and disciplinary actions. That information was provided last week at the same time as the report. A couple of the cases reveal that harassment that went on for months was not addressed by supervisors or other state officials. That’s unacceptable. Employees deserve workplaces that are safe, respectful and inclusive.
Among the recommendations from the task force: Create a centralized, independent office to receive complaints, conduct investigations and ensure consistent policies and procedures across the system; offer more guidance to those who witness sexual harassment; improve and expand anti-harassment training; hire more women in senior roles; conduct regular audits to ensure that policies are being followed, and expand reporting options for state employees.
Extending training to all of the state’s 33,000 employees is a top priority, MMB Commissioner Myron Frans said. Currently only about 56 percent of the state’s workforce has received sexual harassment training. Frans added that work has begun on some of the recommendations, including ramping up training during the next several months.
Minnesotans have seen several high-profile cases as the #MeToo and #Time’s Up movements have swept the nation. Last year, two state lawmakers — DFL Sen. Dan Schoen and Republican Rep. Tony Cornish — and Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken resigned from office after a barrage of sexual misconduct allegations. The latest report shows how pervasive the problem is across government, and how costly it is to taxpayers.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will propose legislation establishing a central administrative body to ensure stronger protections against sexual harassment, more immediate responses to complaints and more consistent consequences for offenders.
When the Minnesota Legislature convenes later this month, its members should approve the recommendations and the governor’s proposal. And they should consider expanding the reach of the new policies to cover not only the administrative sector, but the legislative and judicial branches of state government as well.