WTNH News 8 filed a Freedom of Information Act request for every harassment complaint filed since the year 2000.
The request was returned in late January, and we found there have been only two official complaints filed with the Office of Legislative Management in the last 18 years. The most recent coming in 2003.
The four legislative caucus leaders refused to answer our questions concerning the low number of complaints, but they did release a joint statement to us.
“It is the policy of the General Assembly to create and maintain a work environment in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Everyone has the right to a workplace that is free from harassment, both subtle and overt.
In 2014, Legislative Management, working with the four caucuses, undertook an extensive review of the General Assembly’s sexual harassment policies. After consulting with outside counsel and experts in the field and reviewing best practices from around the country, a new sexual harassment policy was adopted to strengthen training and reporting procedures in regard to any potential sexually harassing behavior that members, legislative employees, and third parties may encounter in the course of their work. And it is once again time for Legislative Management to review the General Assembly’s sexual harassment policies, training requirements and complaint procedures.’’
The HR Director with the Office of Legislative Management, Jim Tamburro, says the current policy was established in 2014 after an extensive review of best practices by legislatures across the country. He says the policy and process for filing the complaint is listed on the Legislative Bulletin, a daily publication detailing the goings-on during the legislative session. It reads:
It is the policy of the Connecticut General Assembly to create and maintain a work environment in which all members of the General Assembly, legislative employees, and third parties are treated with dignity and respect. Legislators, legislative employees, and third parties have the right to a workplace that is free from harassment, both subtle and overt. Therefore, the Connecticut General Assembly will strive to eliminate sexually harassing behavior which legislators, legislative employees, and third parties may encounter in the course of their work.”
Complaints made by or against legislators should be brought to the attention of the appropriate caucus chief-of-staff or a caucus staff person of the opposite gender whom each chief-of-staff shall designate. Complaints made by or against legislative employees should be brought to the attention of the appropriate caucus chief-of-staff, office director, executive director or a manager of the opposite gender whom each chief-of-staff, office director or executive director shall designate. Complaints made by or against third parties should be brought to the attention of the Human Resources Administrator of the Joint Committee on Legislative Management (Room 5100, LOB) or a staff person of the opposite gender whom the Human Resources Administrator shall designate.”
Tamburro says he is confident the process is followed for any complaint that makes it to OLM, but can’t say that every complaint brought to caucus leadership makes it to their fifth floor office.
“It’s extremely difficult for people to come forward with these type of complaints for a number of reasons,” said Tamburro. “We try to create an environment here where people feel respected and we feel very strongly everyone deserves the opportunity to come to work every day free of any kind of harassment.”
Several current and former staffers told the News 8 Investigators that the process is not always followed. They explained to News 8 Investigator that an accuser often has to go through several members of their own caucus before filing a complaint and they are reminded at every step that they are at-will employees serving at the will of the lawmakers.
Colli asked Tamburro if two complaints over 18 years shows the policy needs to be improved?
“We want to do everything we can to create an appropriate environment,” said Tamburro. “I can’t sit here and guarantee everyone is comfortable coming to talk to us about situations they deal with every day.”
The question of whether all harassment complaints are being handled correctly at the Capitol already made its way into the 2018 race for Governor.
GOP Gubernatorial candidate Tim Herbst hinted towards a potential cover-up at the Capitol during the 2nd GOP Governors debate in January.
“There are people in this audience and on this stage that have heard the stories out of Hartford,” said Herbst, who promised he would hire an Inspector General to investigate if accusers are free to file complaints. “Those who engage in it will be held accountable and those that cover it up will be held accountable.”
Fellow gubernatorial candidate and State Senator Toni Boucher told News 8 after the debate that the policies should be constantly reviewed.
“Where there are positions of power, it’s easy to insert that power on those working in that arena,” said Boucher. “They feel a great deal of pressure to comply, satisfy people’s desires because they feel subordinate on that positon and feel. People have a great deal of power over them. We have to be very careful and very protective.”
It’s not just the State Legislature that is reviewing its sexual harassment policies. Governor Dannel Malloy called on all state agencies to review its’ policies in December.
Tamburro says his office wants to hear from legislative staffers. So do the News 8 Investigators. If you have a story to tell, email News 8 Investigator George Colli at George.Colli@WTNH.com. Your story can remain anonymous.