Government

Should bystanders be required to report sexual harassment?

Complaint about David Jamison indicates employees who tried to stop alleged behavior may have felt threatened

(File photo) David Jamison, then a candidate for State Treasurer, speaks at the 2010 Linn County Republican Caucus at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids in 2010. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) David Jamison, then a candidate for State Treasurer, speaks at the 2010 Linn County Republican Caucus at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids in 2010. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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After the ouster of a state agency director accused of sexual harassment, questions remain about whether other employees who allegedly heard sexual comments and saw inappropriate acts over multiple years reported the behavior.

If they didn’t say anything, why not?

Some government agencies and public universities now require bystanders to report sexual harassment to take the burden off the employee being harassed.

“That person is already under threat,” said Debbie Dougherty, a professor of communication at the University of Missouri. “They’ve been potentially traumatized and isolated. I don’t think it’s fair or right we make them feel like they are responsible for reporting the behavior.”

Fear of retaliation

Gov. Kim Reynolds on March 24 fired David Jamison as director of the Iowa Finance Authority after receiving a complaint from one of his employees. The woman, whose name was redacted from the complaint before it was made public, said Jamison verbalized comments about her breasts, asked about her sex life, repeatedly invited her to his hotel room and made sexual gestures and jokes.

“I am terrified about coming forward, but his behavior is escalating and has to stop,” the woman wrote. “It is not safe for women to be around him.”

The woman said Brian Crozier, the Finance Authority’s chief administrative office, recently had reprimanded Jamison for his behavior, and Jamison replied, “You must be allergic to a paycheck.”

Mark Thompson, the agency’s general counsel, also told Jamison to stop or be quiet, the complaint notes.

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The letter doesn’t say whether Crozier or Thompson ever reported Jamison’s alleged behavior to anyone outside the agency. Crozier declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday morning. Thompson did not immediately return an email or a phone message Tuesday.

The governor has asked Des Moines lawyer Mark Weinhardt to investigate the conduct that led to Jamison’s firing and any similar incidents or conduct since he became director in 2011.

Weinhardt also has been asked to find out “what was known at IFA about these matters and the appropriateness of the response to them,” according to the governor’s office.

Reporting protocol

Iowa’s State Employee Handbook and anti-discrimination policy both have sections on sexual harassment. They advise state employees who believe they’ve faced workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment, to tell their immediate supervisor, unless that person is the alleged perpetrator.

In that case, they can go up the chain of command in their own department or contact the director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.

The woman who complained about Jamison said she went straight to the governor because she feared retaliation.

“I think DAS (Department of Administrative Services) will just cover for him, and I’ll end up without a job,” she wrote. “Please help me or tell me who to go to.”

bystander help

Because many sexual harassment targets don’t report harassment, emphasis is shifting to bystander intervention.

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A study reported in March in the Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal found people were more likely to report sexual harassment they observed if the organization had a zero-tolerance policy.

Some public universities, including the University of Missouri, now require most members of the university community to report sexual assault or harassment.

In Texas, all state employees are required to report harassment based on sex and race, said George Cunningham, professor of health and kinesiology and the director of the Center for Sports Management Research and Education at Texas A&M University. A&M reminds students and faculty of this obligation through campaigns like Step In and Stand Up.

When the bystander mandate was added at Mizzou in 2014, Dougherty worried it would prevent students from coming to her with concerns. But “it’s worked out really well because it does put the responsibility on somebody else,” she said, rather than the target of harassment.

Mandated reporting also relieves the bystander because he or she doesn’t have a dilemma about how to handle the situation, Dougherty said.

The Society for Human Resource Management, which represents 285,000 members in more than 165 countries, added to its website March 9 a sexual harassment policy template that says managers and supervisors who “knowingly allow or tolerate sexual harassment” without reporting it to Human Resources are in violation of the policy and subject to discipline.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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