New report details harassment at Colorado Capitol

Most workers at the Colorado state Capitol generally say they feel comfortable there, but there are extensive issues ...

Posted: Apr 5, 2018 2:46 PM
Updated: Apr 5, 2018 2:46 PM

Most workers at the Colorado state Capitol generally say they feel comfortable there, but there are extensive issues that need to be addressed to reform the process by which harassment is handled, according to the long-anticipated independent report into the workplace environment released Thursday.

"The most important factor that drives workplace behavior is culture, and the culture of the Legislative Workplace requires transformation," reads the 235-page report from the Investigations Law Group.

The team of six was contracted to put together the report last year amid a host of allegations that Colorado lawmakers sexually harassed legislative aides, interns or other lawmakers.

Since the investigation began, Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat, was expelled from the state House of Representatives over sexual harassment allegations, and the Senate voted against expelling Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, over allegations he slapped a woman's buttocks.

Investigations into both men found they "more likely than not" committed the alleged behavior, but the votes over their expulsions ended differently. Baumgardner was forced to step down from one of his committee chairmanships, but the former Senate minority leader stepped down in protest of the handling of Baumgardner's case.

In the report publicly released Thursday, which was provided to lawmakers earlier this week, the investigators note 10 problems involving the General Assembly's current policies and offer a series of possible solutions, which lawmakers will have to vote to adopt before the end of this year's session on May 9.

It says that "almost everyone" surveyed felt "safe" or "comfortable" working at the Capitol, though 30 percent of respondents told investigators they'd either seen or experienced harassment themselves. Only a small percentage reported the harassment, they told the investigators.

And about half of people the team interviewed said they'd seen sexist or "seriously disrespectful" behavior among people working at the Capitol.

The report says most of the people who didn't report behavior they'd witnessed said they didn't do so because they feared reprisal.

The report says there are many facets of the current policy that are inadequate or need reforming-something the investigators said was typical in most state legislatures until last year.

It says that retaliation, which played a big part in Lebsock's expulsion, is "a real concern that is not adequately addressed in the present system." A summary also says that the partial confidentiality allowed to some of the parties should be changed, and that accountability for liable parties needed to be strengthened and "made consistent."

The report suggests that the current Human Resources department is understaffed and inadequately empowered, and recommends the creation of a new Office of Legislative Culture that would be staffed by three new positions: an equal employment opportunity officer, a workplace culture specialist and a workplace culture ombudsperson.

It also recommends creating separate paths for the resolution of complaints depending on whether the accused is a lawmaker or works at the Capitol in another capacity.

The report also recommends annual reports be made available for the public on the number of complaints and resolutions made each year, and recommends a thorough re-evaluation process for the workplace harassment policies.

Lawmakers are expected to discuss the report at the Capitol through much of the day Thursday. Denver7 is continuing to go through the report and will update this story throughout the day.

Denver7's Meghan Lopez and Marc Stewart contributed to this report.

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