It turns out that holding a news conference to clear yourself of wrongdoing with a legislative aide and to call for the resignation of her boss falls under the umbrella of workplace retaliation. (Who knew?)
A new report finds Sen. David Wilson’s Dec. 7, 2017 news conference where he refuted claims that he sexually harassed a female legislative aide was a “very serious case of retaliation.” The investigation was done by the Legislative Affairs Agency at the request Senate President Pete Kelly, delivered on Dec. 8, 2017 and was released by the Senate Rules Committee today.
The report is authored by HR Director Skiff Lobaugh and is scathing in its assessment of Wilson’s news conference. It explains that Wilson’s demands at the news conference suggested “that a witness should be punished for participating in a lawful investigation,” falling squarely under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s definition of workplace retaliation.
“In my view this is a very serious case of retaliation,” Lobaugh writes. “Not only does Senator Wilson call for actions that, if implemented, would cause HSE to take a decrease in pay or even lose her job, he goes as far to say that this incident did not happen. Multiple times in the press conference he revealed confidential information and even disclosed question at that were asked during the investigation. In my opinion, his press conference will discourage future employees from filing complaints or participating in investigations unless properly dealt with by the Senate.”
The news conference
The report focuses on the bizarre, free-wheeling news conference’s direct potential impact on the legislative aide that Wilson was rumored to have sexually harassed during a hallway altercation in June. The incident reportedly occurred after the aide attempted to stop Wilson from trying listen in on a closed-door House meeting (or perhaps he was looking for bigger cups, as he said during the news conference). The legislative aide never accused Wilson of sexual harassment or filed a formal complaint. Instead, the hallway confrontation became public later in the year when political gossip blog AlaskaLandmine.com published a belated account.
Faced with additional news stories about the incident–including eye witness accounts by journalists (who refrained from reporting on it at the time out of respect for the legislative aide’s desire not to report the incident)–Wilson called a news conference that he said would clear his name. There, Wilson said there was an investigation conducted by the Legislative Affairs Agency that reviewed security video footage and that it said he did nothing wrong.
Wilson admitted during the news conference that he had not personally seen or read the report, but had parts of it described to him by Kelly over the phone. Multiple times throughout the news conference, Wilson said nothing at all happened and even singled out KTVA reporter Liz Raines for giving her account of the incident on air. He also called for the resignation of various members of the House Majority Coalition leadership, including the legislative aide’s boss.
The report was released in the following days. While it found Wilson hadn’t done anything wrong legally or ethically, it painted a far more complicated picture that didn’t entirely match Wilson’s version of events. It also noted that Wilson’s actions placed the legislative aide in a “stressful no-win predicament” (which will matter later in this story).
The news conference raised red flags throughout the Legislature because it essentially amounted to an attack on people for daring to report a potential case of sexual harassment that relied on a confidential, yet-to-be-released investigation. Lobaugh agreed.
The two-page report released today by the Senate Rules Committee narrowly focused on potential for Wilson’s news conference to harm the legislative aide. It finds two main points: That the resignation of the legislative aide’s boss would financially impact the legislative aide, and that Wilson’s decision to clear himself based on a confidential report undermines any current and future investigations.
According to the report, the call for the resignation of the aide’s boss would “have a direct adverse effect on HSE (the House staff employee) with the loss of pay or even employment depending on the leadership change” or “may ultimately result in a more subtle and indirect adverse reduction in the responsibilities of HSE” that taken together suggest a “witness should be punished for participating in a lawful investigation.”
The report also takes issue with Wilson’s multiple denials that anything at all occurred, saying it would hurt the likelihood people come forward in similar cases in the future.
“While the incident did not fit the definition of hostile work environment sexual harassment, the event did occur and it was an uncomfortable, if not inappropriate, interaction between Senator Wilson and HSE,” Lobaugh writes. “By publicly claiming to the media that the incident did not happen, he has undermined the underlying investigation and any future investigations. This might discourage future individuals from filing complains when they think the incident that they are complaining about can be so publicly dismissed.”
The release of the report was accompanied by a statement from Kelly that said “disciplinary action” has been taken against Wilson, but offered no specifics. A spokesman for the Senate Majority provided the following explanation:
Senator Wilson is on a 3-month probation period to demonstrate that he understands the Human Resources policies and decorum expectations of the Legislature. He is also required to take a training course on retaliation and had his travel restricted.
Wilson sent a letter to the legislative aide on Dec. 28, 2017, obtained by The Midnight Sun today, nearly a month after Kelly received the report from human resources. In it, Wilson quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., and then goes onto pull from Lobaugh’s original investigation.
“I would like to take accountability in my actions that may have put you in a stressful no-win predicament,” he wrote, drawing directly from Lobaugh’s original report that assessed the incident as a “stressful no-win predicament.”
“It was not my intent to have an uncomfortable situation to occur as reported,” he wrote. “I felt that this situation could have been resolved a lot sooner with the proper mediation. I hope in the future we can work in a positive respectful manner to serve the people of our great state.”
That’s it. No real apology and, in our estimation, just a little shade of blame directed at the legislative aide.