Attorney General announces plan to fight harassment in state government
JEFFERSON CITY – Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Tuesday he is taking a stance against harassment and discrimination in the state government.
Hawley’s office will be partnering with the Women’s Foundation to fight problems, specifically sexual harassment, that are seen in the Capitol and across the state.
"Harassment and discrimination are never acceptable," Hawley said. "They cause incalculable personal damage. Research indicates the victims who suffer from harassment and discrimination can suffer effects that can last their entire lives."
Hawley’s main goal is to conduct a review of existing discrimination and harassment policies.
He highlighted the need for action a report in January.
It said discrimination claims against the state create a burden on tax payers and reflect “a deep-seated culture of discrimination and retaliation throughout state government.”
The report found more than $8 million in payments, in 2017 alone, for claims filed under the Missouri Humans Right Act.
“We’ve seen in the last couple of years, two or three years, a significant spike in MHRA claims and MHRA cases and I believe there are hundred of more that are currently pending," Hawley said.
Hawley said things need to change.
“Harassment and discrimination undermine our government's ability to serve the people of Missouri,” he said.
Hawley’s office is proposing the following seven general principles to guide the review:
- Policies should clearly define harassment, discrimination, and retaliation and should provide concrete examples of prohibited conduct
- Policies should establish clear and expeditious procedures for reporting, investigating, and acting on allegations of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation
- Policies should provide victims with channels for submitting anonymous complaints to alleviate possible concerns regarding retaliation
- Policies should provide for specific, predictable, and prompt consequences for employees found to have engaged in harassment, discrimination, or retaliation
- Policies should provide strong checks to prevent retaliation against those who report possible harassment, discrimination, or retaliation
- Policies should provide regular review and updating of employment policies
- Agencies with interns should have policies that specifically address issues relating to employee conduct toward interns
Hawley said agencies should be “held to the highest standards in preventing and remedying these issues.”
Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation, thinks Hawley's initiative will bring change.
“I think you’re going to see, across the board, a reduction in sexual harassment, a reduction in sexual harassment claims because the policies and procedures have been put into place.”
However, Doyle said there is still a bigger issue that goes beyond the state government. Women from all over Missouri are facing unequal pay and poverty, she said.
According to a 2017 study of Status of Women in Missouri conducted by the Women’s Foundation:
- 2/3 of Missouri seniors living in poverty are women
- A Missouri woman working full-time earns only $0.78 for each dollar a man earns. This is a gender gap of almost 22 percent, higher than the nation’s average of 20 percent
- 9.8 percent of Missourians have no health insurance.
- Women make up 51 percent of Missouri’s population but only 22 percent of the legislature. This number has declined 2.7 percent since 2016
- Black women and Hispanic women making roughly only 66.7 percent of what white men make
- 20.5 percent of single-parent families headed by men and 41.3 percent of single-parent families headed by women were poor in 2015
Some democrats think Hawley is being hypocritical.
"Josh Hawley seems to be happy to talk about sexual harassment when it benefits him politically, yet has refused to denounce a major Republican donor facing serious allegations of sexual harassment," said Missouri Democratic Party spokesperson Brooke Goren.
She said Hawley needs to consider the case of former RNC finance chair Steve Wynn, who is being investigated for sexual harassment.
"If Hawley believes that women deserve to be treated with respect, he has the opportunity to demonstrate that today's discussion isn't just talk by finally denouncing Wynn.”
Hawley said he has not accepted any money from Steve Wynn, or his affiliates. He said some Democrats have accepted money from people accused of sexual harassment, including Sen. Claire McCaskill.
“The senator has, the Missouri Democrat Party has, so I think they all owe us an answer as to why they’ve done so and why they have not taken immediate action. Why hasn’t the money been returned? This was months ago," Hawley said.
Hawley said, for now, he looks forward to seeing new sexual harassment policies implemented across the state government.