A top official overseeing veterans' benefits in Goodhue County resigned from his job in May in the wake of complaints alleging sexual harassment from several female veterans service officers.
Lyman "Robby" Robinson, a former mayor of Cannon Falls, quit his $112,000-a-year job as the county Veterans Services officer (CVSO) after several women accused him of improper conduct at a conference in Mankato in mid-April, according to records obtained by the Star Tribune. Robinson also resigned from his role as president of the Minnesota Association of County Veterans Service Officers.
This wasn't the first time Robinson, 60, has been accused of sexual harassment.
The county settled a complaint in 2014 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after his assistant, Heidi Krause, filed a sexual harassment complaint against him for allegedly staring at her breasts. And in 2010, Robinson was reprimanded after a Washington County internal investigation substantiated allegations of sexual harassment against him when he worked there as a CVSO for four years, according to a report in the Rochester Post-Bulletin.
Robinson, reached by phone Thursday at his home in Cannon Falls, declined to comment and hung up.
Goodhue County recently appointed Nathan Pelz, who previously worked as a Veterans Services officer in Wabasha County, as Robinson's replacement.
County officials have not described the most recent harassment allegations and would only say that Robinson was placed on administrative leave after a complaint was filed against him on April 22; his last date of employment was May 2. No disciplinary action was taken, the county said in response to a public records request.
However, Minnesota law states that if a public official resigns or is terminated while a complaint or charge is pending, "all data relating to the complaint or charge are public, unless access to the data would jeopardize an active investigation or reveal confidential sources." After being pressed on the issue, the county turned over two documents to the Star Tribune describing the harassment allegations.
One complaint was forwarded April 22 to Melissa Cushing, Goodhue County's human resources director.
"Unfortunately, we had a male VSO from Goodhue County who was a perpetrator of sexual harassment events recently at a CVSO conference in Mankato," it said. "He also has a long history at his county and other counties we have discovered."
The names of the author and complaint recipients were blacked out by the county without explanation.
The complaint said the author had spoken to a woman who was "attacked at our recent conference in Mankato. Then [I] found out today another female also was sexually harassed the day before … by the same guy." The author said Robinson also made some bizarre comments years earlier to her but that she and another CVSO handled the situation "on the spot."
"Anyway, my involvement now is to help these females through formal processes to file complaints through their counties. The perpetrator of the events is also president of our association," the complainant wrote. "There weren't any rapes thank god, but still the one lady had a very scary encounter."
That encounter is outlined in a second complaint to Goodhue County.
The woman, whose name was withheld, said it took place April 10 at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Women Veterans Conference in Mankato. She said a group of CVSOs went out for drinks that night. She and Robinson shared pictures of their respective families and he sang some karaoke songs.
"He reached out and grabbed my hand. I pulled away and told him that I was married again and that I personally had been cheated on before," the woman wrote. She said he continued to scoot closer to her and kept smiling.
"All of the [sic] sudden CVSO Robinson grabbed my hand, up by my wrist and pulled me towards him. I was terrified! I couldn't pull away because the place was so crowded. I turned my body away from him and he kissed me on the cheek near my ear, and whispered something," she continued.
She said she bolted outside to walk back to her hotel but was so upset she didn't know which way to go. She was following directions on an app on her cellphone when she heard someone calling her name.
Robinson pursued her, she said, calling her name repeatedly and asking whether he'd done something wrong. She ran, cutting through a loading dock to enter her hotel. She quickly locked her room door and began crying. When she saw him at the conference the next day, she said, he smiled and made no apologies.
"Even though we were in a crowded auditorium, I couldn't shake the uneasy feeling it gave me knowing he was in the same room as me," the woman wrote.
Krause — Robinson's former assistant in Goodhue County — said she's so upset about the alleged harassment allegations that she took a medical leave.
"I'm carrying a lot of guilt because I should've pushed harder five years ago" to have him fired, Krause said, choking back tears. She alleged that county officials turned on her because of her earlier complaint against Robinson and recently cut her job duties to a fraction of the work she's been doing for nearly 20 years.
"They've made my life hell since he walked out the door," Krause said. "Now I'm a switchboard operator who gets $30 an hour to schedule rides to the VA. I can't even schedule appointments for them."
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493