Monday, December 11, 2017

Framework for reporting sexual misconduct in S.C. capitol ranges from straightforward to nonexistent

Few details known about complaints

Posted by Adam Manno on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 4:26 PM

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In light of the never-ending-but-incredibly-necessary waves of sexual misconduct allegations that have crashed onto the shores of industries such as film, politics, stand-up comedy and journalism, we thought it necessary to revisit how our own representatives in Columbia, along with staff, can go about reporting inappropriate behavior in the Statehouse.

S.C. House of Representatives: Multi-Part

In a phone call with the City Paper, House clerk Charles F. Reid said:

Someone can report it to their direct supervisor: the Speaker [of the House], the clerk, or the chair of the Operations and Management Committee ... Then it goes through the appropriate channels.

Typically, a complaint about a fellow lawmaker or Statehouse staffer would go to the Speaker, who would then work with the clerk to investigate the complaint. There are alternative steps in the event that the complaint involves either the Speaker or the clerk themselves.

The current Speaker of the House of Representatives is James Lucas (R-Darlington). The chair of the Operations and Management Committee is Garry Smith (R-Greenville).

"If it involves the clerk, it goes to the Speaker who uses his legal counsel to assist him in the process," Reid said.

Inversely, if the complaint involves the Speaker of the House, the clerk would work with the chair of the Operations and Management committee. Along with the chair, the committee is currently comprised of six men and only one woman, Rep. Patsy Knight (D-Dorchester).

It's obvious from this mechanism that reporting sexual misconduct in the Statehouse may not be the most appealing option for lawmakers or staffers not wishing to run afoul of their coworkers. Reporting to the clerk is the only option that does not involve a superior for lawmakers.

"The ideal policy allows the victim alternatives to report to upper management (or those with authority over the harasser) without having to first report it to the harasser — in the event the harasser is his or her boss," said M. Malissa Burnette, an employment and labor law attorney based in Columbia, via e-mail to the City Paper. "If, of course, the 'top guy' is doing the harassing, both the anti-harassment policy and the reporting mechanism fail."

Whoever ends up handling the complaint gets to choose what outside legal counsel they hire to investigate it. If the powers-that-be decide to move forward, allegations are sent to either the House Ethics Committee or a state law enforcement agency, depending on the severity of the claim.

"The House is very open in this process and in trying not to inhibit anyone who may wish to report," Reid said.

The House uses no specific fund to settle claims. This is in sharp contrast to how the U.S. Congress settles cases of sexual misconduct. There, victims are paid confidentially through a special U.S. Treasury fund, which has paid $15.2 million dollars in 235 awards for various Capitol Hill workplace violations (including more than just sexual misconduct), according to The Washington Post.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) announced his resignation on Dec. 7 after multiple sexual misconduct allegations. On Dec. 12, voters in Alabama will decide whether or not to send Roy Moore to the Senate. Moore has been accused of pursuing underage girls.

The State found that two S.C. House lawmakers have resigned since 2015 due to sexual harassment complaints. The Columbia newspaper also reported that allegations of sexual misconduct have cost the state more than $13 million in the past 10 years.

The hurdles inherent in reporting sexual misconduct, which we covered last week, are evident in how some at the Statehouse choose to handle their allegations.

"It happened," Rep. Anne Thayer (R-Anderson) told The State regarding her account of a fellow lawmaker grabbing her from behind without consent at least twice.  "I handled it."

The City Paper has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the House's official written policy on sexual misconduct, as well as information on the number of complaints filed in the past five years.

S.C. Senate: TBD

In response to a similar FOIA request by the City Paper, Senate clerk Jeff Gossett said,
The Senate does not have any records that are responsive to your request. Nor, at this time, do we have a formal no harassment policy in place.
Gosset pointed the City Paper to a statement by President Pro Tempore and Sen. Hugh Leatherman:
Several weeks ago, I instructed the Clerk of the Senate and the Counsel to the President Pro Tempore to prepare a no harassment policy for the members and employees of the Senate. That work is ongoing, but I will have the policy in place by the beginning of next session.

Outlining a policy would help keep the Senate accountable when it comes to sexual harassment.

"Reporting per the policy actually helps to hold the employer liable if the employer then fails to take 'immediate and appropriate' action," Burnette said.


For now, since the Senate has no policy or reporting mechanism regarding sexual harassment, an employee must first "exhaust" his or her administrative procedures, according to Burnette. That means filing a "Charge of Discrimination" with the state Human Affairs Commission within 180 days of the event, or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days of the event. If a settlement is not reached, the employee is eventually given "Notice of Right to Sue" along with a deadline for filing a lawsuit, which must also be carefully followed.

State Sen. Mia McLeod (D-Richland) told The State that "it would be off" if the Senate had no instances of inappropriate behavior.

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