Fired Iowa Senate Republican staffer files sexual harassment lawsuit

Former Iowa Senate Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court yesterday, claiming she was subjected to “sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.” Anderson served as communications director for the Iowa Senate GOP caucus from February 2008 to the middle of May 2013. Bleeding Heartland covered the circumstances surrounding her firing here and here. Anderson filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission last year. She is suing the State of Iowa, the Iowa Senate, the Iowa Senate Republican caucus, Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, Iowa Senate Republican senior staffer Eric Johansen, and Ed Failor, Jr., the primary advisor to Dix since shortly after Dix was chosen to lead the GOP caucus in late 2012.

William Petroski’s report for the Des Moines Register includes a link to the 20-page court filing, which can be downloaded as a pdf file. Pages 3 through 7 list many incidents supporting Anderson’s claims about a hostile work environment and sexual harassment, starting in 2010. Several current and former lawmakers are named. The lawsuit paraphrases inappropriate comments by former GOP Senators Shawn Hamerlinck and Merlin Bartz. Senator Tim Kapucian is said to have laughed at an unnamed senior analyst’s inappropriate comments about a “loose” female Democratic senator. Senators Joni Ernst and Sandy Greiner allegedly “did and said nothing” after witnessing “sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior exhibited by their male colleagues.” Ernst denied that charge in a written statement, which I’ve enclosed after the jump. She suggested Anderson was perhaps “being exploited ahead of the election.”

Speaking to the Des Moines Register, Anderson’s attorney Mike Carroll

denied any political motivation behind the timing of the lawsuit. He said that before a lawsuit could be filed, his client had to file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The complaint was filed last year. The commission issued a letter in July giving Anderson 90 days to file a lawsuit, and the filing deadline was set to expire Oct. 29, he said.

In her own statement, Anderson said, “As to the suggestions that I am a pawn in a political drama, that is not the case. I am standing up for my rights as an employee; a right to work in a place without inappropriate and discriminatory conduct.”

Pages 12 through 17 of the court filing include a memo Anderson handed to Johansen on the morning of May 17, 2013, suggesting that her work was being criticized because she had complained about a “sexually hostile work environment” that “no private sector workplace would tolerate.” Later the same day, in Dix’s presence, Johansen gave Anderson a choice of resigning or being fired. Pages 17 and 18 list six causes of action under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Anderson is seeking back pay and benefits, compensatory damages, a ruling that her termination was unfair and/or discriminatory, and injunctive relief requiring (among other things) new training procedures for Iowa Senate staffers.

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Steve King unsure how best to exploit USDA scandal

Representative Steve King rarely misses a chance to accuse the Obama administration of racism, but this week he seems uncertain about the best way to exploit the fiasco over USDA official Shirley Sherrod’s dismissal. King told Politico yesterday that he sympathized with Sherrod, having been misquoted himself.

King suggested Sherrod has changed her views over the past quarter-century and should get her job back.

“Also, I think it’s interesting that we don’t have it clear whether [U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom] Vilsack fired her or the White House fired her,” King added. “The president was going to be the first post-racial president but his whole presidency is becoming about race.”

But in a talk radio appearance, King took a different tack, saying Sherrod’s hiring by the USDA should be investigated. He noted Sherrod was a claimant in the Pigford case (a discrimination lawsuit black farmers brought against the USDA). Apparently King wants Americans to believe the Pigford case settlement resulted in too much money going to too many black farmers.

In other recent King news, to no one’s surprise he joined the new Tea Party Caucus that Michele Bachmann founded in the U.S. House of Representatives. Bachmann and King are ideological soulmates who share a press secretary. To see who else became a founding Tea Party caucus member, check this list on the Mother Jones blog. You’ll find some famous loudmouths (Joe “You Lie!” Wilson) and “big idea” folks like Paul Broun, who wants to repeal the constitutional amendments that permit the federal income tax and the direct election of U.S. senators.

The Tea Party caucus isn’t just a haven for fringe-y House wingnuts, though. Bachmann’s group attracted GOP leaders including National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence. Whether they’ll manage to harness tea party energy for the bulk of GOP establishment candidates remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, heavy rain continues to batter Iowa this week. I see King joined Iowa’s other U.S. House members in asking President Obama to “quickly approve Gov. Chet Culver’s request for a disaster declaration for Iowa counties” affected by flooding. However, I can’t find any press release from King’s office explaining his vote last week against extending the federal flood insurance program.

UPDATE: King tweeted around 1:30 on Thursday afternoon, “Shirley Sharrod was involved in a collective farm in Georgia. Nation’s largest ($13 million) recipient in Pigford Farms($2 billion) fraud.” He got that information from talk radio host Ben Shapiro.

SECOND UPDATE: King notes in a press release that he has signed on to a “friend of the court” brief defending the state of Arizona’s new immigration law. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit against that law. On Fox News yesterday, King gave a theological justification for his position on immigration:

God gave us rights. Our founding fathers recognized that. It’s in our Declaration [of Independence]. It’s the foundational document of America, and God made all nations on earth and He decided when and where each nation would be. And that’s out of the Book of Acts and it’s in other places [in the Bible]. So we can’t be a nation if we don’t have a border, and if we grant amnesty, we can’t define it as a border any longer or ourselves as a nation as a border any longer.

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Judge rules part of federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional

In two cases that could affect married same-sex couples in Iowa, federal Judge Joseph Tauro ruled Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional today, Lisa Keen reported for Bay Windows. Regarding Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Health and Human Services,

Maura T. Healey, chief of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division, told Judge Tauro that Section 3 of DOMA — the section that limits the definition of marriage for federal benefits to straight couples — violates the state’s right under the federal constitution to sovereign authority to define and regulate the marital status of its residents. Healey called DOMA an “animus-based national marriage law” that intrudes on core state authority and “forces the state to discriminate against its own citizens.”

Christopher Hall, representing HHS, said Congress should be able to control the meaning of terms, such as “marriage,” used in its own statutes, and should be able to control how federal money is allocated for federal benefits provided to persons based on their marital status. Tauro essentially replied that the government’s power is not unlimited.

The other case was Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD):

GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto told Tauro that DOMA constitutes a “classic equal protection” violation, by taking one class of married people in Massachusetts and dividing it into two. One class, she noted, gets federal benefits, the other does not. Just as the federal government cannot take the word “person” and say it means only Caucasians or only women, said Bonauto, it should not be able to take the word “marriage” and say it means only heterosexual couples. Bonauto said the government has no reason to withhold the more than 1,000 federal benefits of marriage from same-sex couples, and noted that a House Judiciary Committee report “explicitly stated the purpose of DOMA was to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”

Keen notes that the plaintiffs in both cases asked the judge to apply a strict scrutiny standard, which “requires the government to come up with a fairly significant reason for treating gay couples differently under the law.” Judge Tauro found that Section 3 of DOMA fails even a “rational basis” standard, which is easier for the government to satisfy.

If today’s rulings are upheld by the First Circuit U.S. Appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court, hundreds of Iowa couples married since April 2009 may be able to receive federal benefits.

UPDATE: Andrew Cohen, CBS News Radio Chief Legal Analyst and Legal Editor, is going through the rulings. He notes Judge Tauro held that Congress has no interest in uniform definition of marriage rights and that the federal government should have left marriage policy to the states. In addition, the judge determined that “facts upon which DOMA was based [are] now obsolete or at least overshadowed by more recent science on same-sex marriage-childrearing.”

SECOND UPDATE: Speaking of marriage equality, NBC has opened up a wedding contest to same-sex couples. Initially only heterosexual couples were eligible to enter.

THIRD UPDATE: The Constitutional Law Prof blog summarized Judge Tauro’s legal reasoning and posted links to pdf files of both rulings.

FOURTH UPDATE: Adam Bink discusses the debate in LGBT circles on whether it would be better or worse for the U.S. Department of Justice to appeal this ruling.

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Iowa Libertarian candidate comments on Rand Paul, workplace regulations

The day after Rand Paul won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, his views on civil rights legislation sparked a media feeding frenzy so intense that Paul became only the third guest in recent history to cancel a scheduled appearance on “Meet the Press.”

Several prominent Republicans, including Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley, have distanced themselves from Paul’s ideas about whether the government should be able to bar discrimination by private businesses. Paul walked back his comments on civil rights too.

I contacted the campaign of Iowa’s Libertarian candidate for governor, Eric Cooper, to get his take on Paul’s remarks and government regulation of businesses in general. Cooper’s responses are after the jump.

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