Former Iowa GOP Senate staffer's civil rights complaint

Recently-fired Iowa Senate GOP communications director Kirsten Anderson filed a complaint last week with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, alleging that Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix and three staffers for the GOP Senate caucus subjected her to a sexually hostile work environment and retaliated against her for complaining about the work environment.

A pdf file of Anderson’s complaint can be viewed here. I’ve posted the two-page narrative section after the jump.

Reading the allegations, two points stood out for me. Anderson told WHO-TV’s Dave Price that legislators as well as GOP staffers made inappropriate comments to and about women on staff. But her complaint to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission does not accuse any Republican lawmakers of making such remarks. The only named respondents are Dix (for failing to provide a safe work environment) and three staffers.

Second, in her narrative about alleged retaliation, Anderson describes meetings in May 2013, during which she was told her work was “not where it needed to be.” Those meetings involved Eric Johansen, a named respondent in the complaint who is Iowa GOP Senate staff director, and Tracie Gibler, an assistant to Dix. Anderson did not accuse Gibler of creating a hostile work environment. Representative Steve King’s office just announced yesterday that Gibler will be King’s new Congressional chief of staff, as of June 10. (I’ve posted that press release below.) I can’t blame Gibler for wanting to get out of Dix’s office–or maybe the timing of her departure is a coincidence, just like named respondent Ed Failor, Jr. and Dix have claimed it was a coincidence that Anderson was fired for cause on the very same day she documented complaints about the work environment.  

Kirsten Anderson’s complaint filed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission on May 30 names four respondents:

Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix

Ed Failor, assistant to Senator Dix

Jim Friedrich, senior analyst

Eric Johansen, staff director

The following narrative appears on pages 4 and 5:

Complainant began her employment with the lowa Senate Republican caucus on February 1, 2008, as Communications Director. During her tenure with the Republican staff office Complainant received regular pay increases and positive performance evatuations. During the majority of her tenure with the staff office Complainant had one female coworker and eight male colleagues. Additionally, the lowa Senate is comprised overwhelmingly of male senators on both sides of the aisle. It did not take long for Complainant to learn that the male-dominated workplace allowed sexism and fraternity house chatter to flourish.

The work environment became more toxic since 2010 when one senior analyst in the Republican staff office often talked openly and negatively about women, referring to them often in the most derogatory and vile terms. Additionally, in 2010 the same analyst once called Complainant to his desk and asked her to look at something on his computer which turned out to be a picture of a naked woman. That analyst’s behavior became so problematic that Complainant and her female colleague went to the staff director at that time, Peter Matthes, and asked him to intervene.

During 2012 that same analyst made numerous comments hostile to and towards women, including, but not limited to:

·        Once asking Complainant when she was going to meet her husband for lunch whether she was going for “a little tickle pickle;”

·        On November 8, 2012, in conversation with a Republican Senator, and in front of other colleagues suggesting that a female Democratic senator “got around;”

·        On December 30, 2012, in a meeting of Republican staff at which Dix’s advisor Ed Failor was in attendance and discussing potential clerks, the analyst joked about one candidate, “she likes the rhythm” explaining to the others present “she likes black dick.”

Regarding the December 30, 2012 comment, Failor told Complainant and her female colleague on January 2, 2013, that the analyst’s comments were not acceptable and would not continue. He also explained that the Senate had no formal handbook or training for sexual harassment and asked whether this tvpe of conduct had occurred before. They explained that it had. Failor told them it was best to ask the analyst to stop the comments and that he would keep their complaint confidential. He reinforced that he would follow up with a staff meeting to support a safe work environment.

On January 10, 2013, a staff meeting was held in Senate Minority Leader Dix’s office during which time Senator Dix stated that there would be zero tolerance for the kind of behavior exhibited in a recent incident and that the Senate Republican staff office was to be a safe workplace. This statement during a staff meeting is in contrast with comments made by Senate Minority Leader Dix since Complainant’s termination on May 17, 2013, in which he has been quoted as saying “I’ve never tolerated in the past nor will I tolerate in the future harassment of any kind, including sexual harassment. I believe that we have a calm, professional environment to work in here.” While clearly having stated he wanted a calm and professional environment, Dix had been alerted to the reality both by his senior advisor and by the Secretary of the Senate. That kind of behavior necessitated his meeting with staff and reiterated that this was standard operating procedure for a long time.

Complainant received an evaluation from her new staff director, Eric Johansen, who gave Complainant a step pay increase while informing her that he did not have sufficient data to do a complete review. Complainant had been given her last formal evaluation in September 2012 and was told she was meeting or exceeding all expectations.

Though Failor was not Complainant’s supervisor, on January 24, 2013, he teased Complainant regarding using contractions and possessives in her writing. On January 31, 2013, he derisively told Complainant she needed remedial writing assistance. Failor routinely commented negatively regarding Complainant’s choice of clothing and shoes. Other than Failor telling Complainant she needed to “read more Republican blogs,” no other comments about her work were offered other than routine editing and related feedback, until May 10, 2013.

On May 10, 2013, Complainant was called into a meeting with Johansen and a Dix assistant, Tracie Gibler, where Complainant was told, for the first time in months, that her work was “not where it needed to be.” Complainant pressed for details regarding specific feedback and deadlines. Other than being told she would be reevaluated again in a few more weeks, neither Gibler nor Johansen gave her anything substantial. During a meeting on May 15, 2013, Gibler and Johansen went over edits for a newsletter story for the week. This was the first time since February 7 that anyone had offered editorial feedback regarding Complainant’s work.

Complainant believed that the feedback she was receiving was ill-defined and not helpful and, more importantly, was really not related to the quality of her work but rether related to her complaints regarding the hostile environment and harassment she and her coworker faced every day. On May 17, 2013, Complainant handed a memo to Johansen outlining her concerns and specifically challenging him and his bosses on their motives for complaining about her work product. She believed that they were retaliating against her for complaining about sexual harassment and told them so. She was fired seven hours later.

‘Respondent’s actions in subjecting Complainant to a sexually hostile work environment and retaliating against her for complaining about the sexually hostile work environment violate her rights protected by the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

June 4 press release from Representative Steve King (emphasis in original):

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Steve King (IA-04) announced today that Tracie Gibler will join his staff effective Monday, June 10, 2013 to serve as Chief of Staff. In this role, she will oversee all operations of the Congressman’s office. Most recently, Gibler served as Deputy Chief of Staff in the office of Iowa State Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix.  Previous jobs have included directing the Iowa Senate Republican Majority Fund, where Gibler facilitated a total of 26 State Senate races. Prior to her work on the 2012 elections, she served with the Republican Party of Iowa and was also the Iowa Political Director for Governor Tim Pawlenty’s Presidential campaign. She also served as the campaign manager for the Miller-Meeks for Congress 2010 campaign.  A native Iowan, Gibler is a graduate of Northwestern University and holds a J.D. from Drake University Law School.

“I am pleased to welcome Tracie as my Chief of Staff,” said King. “Tracie brings with her a wealth of knowledge about Iowa politics, as well as extensive management experience and policy expertise. I am confident in her ability to excel in this new role, and to assist my office as we continue to strive to best serve the constituents of Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District.”

  • The named analyst is not a big surprise.

    That had been my guess before reading this.  Expected better from Dix, however. Doesn’t appear he received good advice about this.

    It will be interesting to see if this settles quietly, or if she sticks with it through the complaint process and perhaps a lawsuit.  It won’t be easy.

    • interesting that she didn't name Paul McKinley

      who was Senate Minority Leader in 2010 and most of 2011, or Jerry Behn, who was Senate Minority Leader from late 2011 until November 2012. Sounds like they did nothing to resolve the toxic work environment.

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