TOPEKA, Kan. — Some Kansas lawmakers acknowledge they weren’t even aware that the Legislature had a policy on sexual harassment before it became a topic of discussion when several women alleged they were sexually harassed at the Statehouse or in Kansas politics.
After the women made their allegations, legislative leaders asked the Women’s Foundation in Kansas City to review the policy, which hasn’t been changed since 1994.
“It’s an inadequate, in my view, policy for a number of reasons,” said Merrick Rossein, a national expert on sexual harassment policy and professor at the City University of New York.
As some examples, the current policy doesn’t prohibit lawmakers from pursuing romantic relationships with interns, doesn’t say an outside investigator can look into complaints and doesn’t publicly name lawmakers who engage in harassment, The Wichita Eagle reported .
New lawmakers are told during orientation that the Legislature has zero tolerance for sexual harassment but legislators are not required to receive regular training.
Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who has been in the Legislature since 2010, said she wasn’t aware of the policy and had received no training.
The 500-word policy calls for complaints to be investigated “as discreetly as possible” and says “prompt and effective corrective action” shall be taken but it doesn’t define potential action. It also says employees who violate the policy are subject to discipline, including termination.
Barbara Bryant, an expert in sexual harassment law at the University of California-Berkeley, suggested policies include escalating consequences for harassers, with a first-time offense resolved privately.
“The second time, it’s really got to escalate. And part of that is probably making the names public. I know that’s going to be a hard sell,” Bryant said. “The third would be termination.”
Kansas policy allows for complaints to be investigated by the person who received the complaint or by their designee, but doesn’t define who can be designated to investigate.
“You have to have an independent process. There’s no way that people – constitutionally elected state officials, state senators, state representatives – they can’t investigate themselves,” said Merrick Rosen, a professor at City University in New York who is a national expert on sexual harassment policy.
Joseph Mastrosimone, a law professor at Washburn University in Topeka, called the Kansas policy fairly standard.
“The question becomes: How is it used, how is it enforced? On paper, it’s what a lawyer would want in a sexual harassment policy,” Mastrosimone said. “The proof really is in the pudding.”
Republican Senate President Susan Wagle said the policy should be reviewed but she isn’t necessarily saying it needs to be changed.
Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, said he previously wasn’t sure the Legislature had a sexual harassment policy.
“I’ve never been aware of one, other than we trust legislators to know the right thing to do. And so I think it’s good we’re going to have some training,” Trimmer said.
He referred to an announcement by House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, that House Democrats will receive sexual harassment training before the session begins in January.
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com