Minnesota House leaders on Thursday released key findings and recommendations from an independent inquiry into the sexual misconduct that led to the resignation in November of former Rep. Tony Cornish.
A summary described a lack of regard for the “power imbalance” between legislators and others, a perception that lawmakers won’t be punished for inappropriate behavior and inadequate procedures for reporting harassment.
Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and other leaders said in a statement that the full report will not be made public “in light of privacy concerns for those participating in the process and the potential chilling effect on future reports.”
Cornish, a Republican from Vernon Center, declined to be interviewed by investigators. Reached Thursday, he said, “I haven’t got any comment.”
The departures of Cornish and former DFL Sen. Dan Schoen, who also was accused of sexual harassment, prompted demands for revisions to workplace culture, policies, and reporting procedures at the Legislature that are still being debated.
Last month, all 134 members of the House attended an all-day training course on sexual harassment and discrimination. Changes to House rules proposed in December would allow lobbyists, staff, members of the executive branch and the public to make confidential discrimination and harassment complaints.
“Definitely changes need to be made, and I think this just bolsters my belief that we need some kind of outside entity … to deal with this problem,” Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, said Thursday. “This does not have to be a partisan thing.” Becker-Finn and Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, who was among Cornish’s accusers, have pushed for an independent sexual harassment task force.
On Nov. 13, House leaders hired NeuVest, which conducts workplace investigations, to explore Cornish’s exit and solicit suggestions for addressing sexual harassment in the future. The company did more than 110 hours of work at a cost of $30,114. Results will be referred to the newly formed Subcommittee on Workplace Safety and Respect.
Among the conclusions:
• Some members “lack sufficient appreciation for, or choose to disregard, the power imbalance between members … and legislative staff, lobbyists, and others.”
• The House, Senate, and Legislative Coordinating Commission “act somewhat as silos with regard to harassment and discrimination. No legislature-wide policy or formal agreements exist.” The House can’t compel lobbyists, nonlegislative state employees or other third parties to participate in investigations.
• House policies have not been sufficiently publicized so third parties, including members of the public, lobbyists and the like, know how to report discrimination or harassment.
• House supervisors need clarification about when a report needs to be transmitted to the House human resources director or employment law counsel.
• A perception that House members will not be disciplined for violations of the policy “may chill reports regarding members.”
Judy Keen • 612-673-4234