Report: Analysis finds inconsistent process of investigating sexual harassment complaints

Report: Analysis finds inconsistent process of investigating sexual harassment complaints

October 30th, 2016 by Associated Press in Politics State

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A newspaper's analysis of state government data shows an inconsistent process among Tennessee agencies of investigating sexual harassment complaints and handing out punishments.

The Tennessean reports at least 460 such complaints have been lodged against state employees or contractors since 2010. About 190 incidents were found to have merit, and the consequences for state employees varied widely.

According to the newspaper, employees in one agency were given minor sanctions, while at other agencies, workers were fired for verbal harassment. Nearly two-thirds of complaint investigations were closed because investigators said they found no wrongdoing.

The complaints were filed in 44 state departments and commissions. Tennessee has roughly 40,000 state employees.

At the Office of the Comptroller, a male employee was fired for violating "another office policy" before an investigation ended into allegations by two women that he sexually harassed them, according to office general counsel Stephanie Maxwell.

A Department of Labor and Workforce Development security guard admitted to inappropriately touching a co-worker in 2014. He was suspended for two days without pay, according to the newspaper.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Bill Haslam referred questions to Department of Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, who said government employees receive regular training on workplace discrimination. She said sexual harassment in state government isn't rampant.

"Here's what I do know ... if we weren't doing the training that we're doing, I have no doubt that our trend would be much higher than it currently is," Hunter said.

The DHR collects data on sexual harassment complaints in state government but does not routinely look into how departments address specific allegations. Language used to define sexual harassment varies widely among agencies.

The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse follows a DHR policy that includes a description of what constitutes sexual harassment, while the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has its own policy, which does not include a definition of sexual harassment.

DHR spokeswoman Ashley Fuqua said requiring each state agency to have uniform policies "could be something that might come up in the future, but now each agency kind of determines according to practices and its own policies how they will be disciplined."