2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

North Liberty lawmaker seeks information on state sexual harassment cases

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A House Democrat is asking the Iowa Public Information Board to help her gain the release of the number of sexual harassment complaints have been filed by state government employees.

Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said Wednesday she has been denied that information by the Governor’s Office, which said it would violate employees’ confidentiality.

According to Nielsen, Janet Phipps, director of the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), has denied multiple requests from state lawmakers to gather aggregate information on harassment cases and claims in state government. That’s “beyond disappointing, Nielsen said.

“Over the last two years, the taxpayers of Iowa have shelled out $7.5 million in settlements related to sexual harassment,” she said. Legislators are not seeking names of other personal information about the victims of sexual harassment.

By her refusal, Nielsen said, Phipps is “fostering a culture of secrecy in state government that leaves taxpayers at risk of paying millions more in harassment settlements.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office released a statement saying the information was released more than a month ago.

“Gov. Reynolds is committed to protecting the victims of sexual harassment and their right for confidentiality,” her spokesman Pat Garrett said. “Rep. Nielsen is asking for sensitive information that the Department of Administrative Services is required to keep confidential under Iowa Law. DAS has worked to comply with her requests in consultation with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, and ultimately provided this confidential information through the proper channels to the Legislative Services Agency on Jan. 25, 2019.”

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Nielsen says legislators need to know if new procedures put in place are working to address what Nielsen calls a “sexual harassment crisis in state government.”

“At this point, I think we just need to come clean and say: ‘Yep, we have a problem here. This is how bad it is. Here’s what we’re doing to fix that and in a year or two years, we will be able to release the numbers again and they will be lower,’” Nielsen said. “And I don’t think they feel confident that they can do that.”

Nielsen suspects there have been more settlements than lawmakers and the public know about, but settlements may have come from personnel budgets. In that case, the settlements would not be disclosed to the public.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, releasing the information through the LSA “provides an alternative avenue” for legislators to obtain information “while protecting the confidential nature of that information.”

Radio Iowa contributed to this report.

• Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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