Iowa Legislature hires human resources director after $1.75 million sexual harassment payout

The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Republicans who run the Iowa Legislature say Kate Murphy of Ankeny will begin work Jan. 22 as director of human resources to help make changes in the wake of a $1.75 million lawsuit settlement last year that involved claims of sexual harassment in the Senate’s GOP caucus.

Murphy, a senior professional in human resources and a certified public manager, has worked as an administrator in the state Department of Transportation since 2006 and has been involved in human resources management and administration in the public and private sectors.

Charles Smithson, secretary of the Iowa Senate, said Murphy will be paid $86,000 annually in the new joint House-Senate position.

Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said Murphy will help legislative branch officials take “a fresh look” at updating policies and procedures related to sexual harassment and serve as a resource if someone is experiencing problems in the Statehouse work environment.

Colin Tadlock, a spokesman for House Republicans, said leaders in both GOP-led chambers were involved in hiring Murphy, who will report to Smithson and House Chief Clerk Carmine Boal.

He noted the legislative branch has between 400 and 500 employees during the session, and most businesses with a workforce of that size have a human resources person.

In her new post, Murphy will work with supervisors in writing job descriptions and doing employee evaluations and terminations but not necessarily as a sexual harassment investigator.

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The new position was created after state officials agreed last fall to pay $1.75 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a former GOP Senate staffer who was fired after reporting sexual misconduct.

Whitver said he believed the addition of a human resources director “will definitely help, but I think the governor also said it very well in her speech that this isn’t something you can just legislate. We have to be more mindful of those situations going forward.”

House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown said he, too, was glad that Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke about sexual harassment in her Condition of the State address Tuesday but added “let’s keep in mind that Republicans in the Senate already have cost Iowans $1.75 million because of their behavior.”

Reynolds used her first Condition of the State speech Tuesday to call for an end to the “destructive force” of sexual harassment.

“It must stop,” Reynolds said. “As a woman, a mother of three girls, a grandmother, wife, sister and daughter, I understand we’re at an unprecedented moment in time. You cannot legislate kindness or respect or morality. The solution starts with every individual, man or woman,” including elected officials who should serve as role models.

“What we do here matters. Iowans are watching,” Reynolds said. “We can’t change behavior everywhere, but we have an obligation to lead and, as long as I am governor, we’re going to.”

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