Government

Iowa panel approves $4 million in sexual harassment payouts

Two women said they were harassed by ousted Iowa Finance Authority director

David Jamison
David Jamison

The state has approved paying out $4.15 million to settle allegations from two women that they were sexually harassed on the job by the former director of the Iowa Finance Authority.

The State Appeal Board voted 2-to-1 Monday to pay Beth Mahaffey, former business development director for the authority, $2.35 million. Ashley Jared, communications director for the authority, will get $1.8 million.

State Auditor Rob Sand, the board’s dissenting vote, said he didn’t oppose paying the women but questioned whether taxpayers should foot the bill and whether the settlement might fall apart if the state seeks reimbursement from the ousted director, David Jamison.

The settlements are the first time Mahaffey and Jared have been publicly named as the women who accused Jamison of sexually harassing them over several years at the state agency, which administers affordable housing and homebuyers’ assistance programs.

Gov. Kim Reynolds last March fired Jamison from his $131,000-a-year job after receiving a letter detailing harassment allegations. A five-month investigation by a Des Moines law firm confirmed the allegations in a 35-page report released in September.

The approved settlements bring to nearly $6 million the amount the State Appeal Board has agreed to pay out over the last 15 months to settle allegations from state employees that they were subjected to sexual harassment from superiors. In October 2017, the board approved a $1.75 million payout to Kirsten Anderson, the former communications director for Iowa Senate Republicans who said she was fired the same day she lodged a sexual harassment complaint.

Jared, who still works at the Iowa Finance Authority, released a statement Monday through her attorney:

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“Coming forward to the Governor about the sexual assault and harassment I was enduring by my then Executive Director took every ounce of strength and courage I had,” Jared said. “I’m passionate about the work the Iowa Finance Authority does and I made the decision to come forward in order to remain in my job and to help ensure other women would not have to go through what I did.”

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The Weinhardt Law Firm laid out allegations by three witnesses, focusing mostly on reports from Witness 1 and Witness 2. Jared’s attorney, Melissa Schilling, confirmed Monday that Jared is Witness 2.

“We have concluded based on our investigation that Mr. Jamison indeed engaged in sexually harassing conduct,” the report stated. “Mr. Jamison categorically denies any wrongdoing. His position is that the events described by Witness 1 and Witness 2 are simply false. Based on the totality of our investigation, we do not find Mr. Jamison’s denials to be credible.”

Witness 2 told investigators Jamison grabbed her breasts with both hands while they were drinking with other employees on a work-related trip in the Okoboji area in December 2016. Jamison did this in the context of a joke about a dollar bill, investigators said. In ensuing months, he would reference the joke by saying “bet you a dollar” to the woman or showing her a $1 bill, the report stated.

Witness 2 also described a work-related road trip in which she was driving and Jamison was in the passenger seat. He asked her questions about sex and used his cellphone to watch a pornographic video, the report stated.

Investigators found the women targeted by Jamison saw their pay increase dramatically during their time at the agency, perhaps contributing to their fear of “adverse employment consequences” if they reported him, the report stated.

The investigation found Jamison often committed sexual acts or made sexual comments within a small group, which witnesses said he called his “Circle of Trust,” with whom he frequently socialized and drank alcohol. Besides the two key witnesses, the circle included Tara Lawrence, director of Iowa Title Guaranty, and Wes Peterson, director of government relations.

Lawrence and Peterson are no longer at the Finance Authority.

Earlier this year, Reynolds appointed Debi Durham, who also oversees the Iowa Economic Development Authority, as director of the Iowa Finance Authority.

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

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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