SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A former South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation agent said she hopes a jury’s $1.2 million verdict in her favor sends a strong message about the need to believe sexual harassment victims.
Laura Zylstra Kaiser said her case wasn’t so much about sexual harassment but retaliation for reporting it. She said it’s also about the actions of Attorney General Marty Jackley, who oversees the DCI and is running for governor.
Kaiser got a stellar review just before a new a colleague joined her on the Aberdeen Area Drug Task Force in 2011. She said Brown County Deputy Ross Erickson, who no longer works at the sheriff’s office, soon began making inappropriate comments.
Kaiser said she discussed it with another agent, Mark Black, who broke her confidence and told others what happened. In her lawsuit, Kaiser said the strife caused her to be demoted and transferred to Pierre against her wishes. She resigned in 2012.
“I’m here to speak for my sisters in law enforcement and to the other women and any other victim of sexual harassment to let them know you don’t have to put up with sexual harassment, but most importantly do not be in fear or the retaliation,” Kaiser told KELO-TV.
After her demotion and transfer, Kaiser appealed to agency Director Bryan Gortmaker and Jackley for reinstatement, but Jackley denied the grievance. She filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then the lawsuit in 2015. Last week, a jury awarded her at least $1.2 million, but there are elements of the case yet to be settled and the state could appeal.
Jackley said he relied on Black’s version of events and the advice of others in the office where he worked. Black was fired from the agency in 2014 over allegations of domestic abuse and that he exercised poor judgment, court records show.
“I personally called the State’s Attorney, Sheriff, as well as her lawyers, and reviewed Agent Black’s information,” Jackley said in a statement to the Argus Leader. “Any female agent in the DCI should report any harassment to their supervisors, and I have an open-door policy for them to also raise concerns directly to me.”