Hear­ing high­lights patchy pol­icy

State law­mak­ers grap­ple with un­der­re­ported sex ha­rass­ment

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Em­i­lie Mun­son

HART­FORD — Sex­ual ha­rass­ment ex­ists at the state Capi­tol, law­mak­ers made it clear Mon­day — and with the ex­cep­tion of one re­cent com­plaint, this be­hav­ior has of­ten gone un­re­ported and some­times unchecked over the past decade.

Top leg­is­la­tors held a hear­ing Mon­day to dis­cuss with ex­perts how to im­prove their poli­cies to bet­ter pro­tect law­mak­ers, em­ploy­ees and ev­ery­one who comes to the Capi­tol from sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Their con­ver­sa­tions high­lighted a patchy pol­icy that strug­gles to pro­vide re­port­ing op­tions and dis­ci­pline for peo­ple with many dif­fer­ent jobs work­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment where power and in­flu­ence — of­ten de­rived from re­la­tion­ships — are king.

“There are peo­ple watch­ing (this hear­ing) in the build­ing right now who are scared to come for­ward,” said Sen. Beth

Bye, D-West Hart­ford.

Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, who served as an in­tern and an aide be­fore her elec­tion to the Gen­eral Assem­bly in 2008, said over the years, she has ob­served “lob­by­ists hav­ing to en­dure in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments from leg­is­la­tors about their ap­pear­ance,” and “leg­is­la­tors in­ap­pro­pri­ately touch­ing other peo­ple, even other leg­is­la­tors.”

Spe­cific ac­counts of sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the Capi­tol were not given dur­ing the hear­ing. But sev­eral mem­bers said or hinted that this be­hav­ior was not rare.

Leg­is­la­tors, aides, state em­ploy­ees, lob­by­ists, ven­dors and me­dia all work in the same build­ing, but have dif­fer­ent em­ploy­ers, and poli­cies may ap­ply to them dif­fer­ently. Add what law­mak­ers called “the unique power dy­nam­ics of elected of­fi­cials” and polic­ing work­place ha­rass­ment is ex­tra tough.

“It’s dif­fer­ent than what you might have in a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment where you might have a sin­gle or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said Sen. Bob Duff, D-Nor­walk.

The leg­is­la­ture’s pol­icy now says all staff must par­tic­i­pate in sex­ual ha­rass­ment train­ing. It gives vic­tims a few re­port­ing op­tions, but does not say what by­standers should do.

Other than one sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaint re­cently filed with the Of­fice of Leg­isla­tive Man­age­ment — which pro­vides hu­man re­sources for the Gen­eral Assem­bly — only two other com­plaints have been made — and those were filed with CHRO in the early 2000s, said Jim Tam­burro, hu­man re­sources ad­min­is­tra­tor for OLM.

These low num­bers made many law­mak­ers ques­tion whether the pol­icy was work­ing. Dur­ing the meet­ing, law­mak­ers and ex­perts pointed out many “holes.”

For ex­am­ple, there is lit­tle OLM can do when they find ev­i­dence of sex­ual ha­rass­ment by a leg­is­la­tor, said Tam­burro. Law­mak­ers can strip that mem­ber of their ti­tles and re­duce their salary — as re­cently done with Rep. An­gel Arce, DHart­ford, ac­cused of send­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate mes­sages to a 16-year-old girl.

But it could take the col­lec­tive ac­tion of the four leg­isla­tive cham­bers to get an elected of­fi­cial out of of­fice, said Speaker of the House Joe Ares­i­mow­icz, D-Ber­lin.

In con­trast, OLM does have the power to fire leg­isla­tive aides and other staff af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sev­eral leg­is­la­tors wanted to add a way to anony­mously re­port sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Illi­nois passed a law in Novem­ber to add a hot­line for re­port­ing, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures. Oth­ers sup­ported clar­i­fy­ing and strength­en­ing poli­cies for “third par­ties” work­ing at the Capi­tol, like lob­by­ists, ven­dors and me­dia.

Many law­mak­ers ex­pressed dis­may that no writ­ten pol­icy for­bid­ding su­pe­ri­ors and sub­or­di­nates from dat­ing ex­ists at the Capi­tol.

“I ques­tion whether it is pos­si­ble to have a con­sen­sual re­la­tion­ship with the power dy­nam­ics that ex­ist (be­tween an em­ployee and boss) and when the per­for­mance of your job is so sub­jec­tive,” said Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-South­bury.

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, a for­mer aide, said she has ob­served many in­stances of sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

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