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.

Statement released by Joni Ernst on October 16:

“As a mother of three daughters and someone who has been sexually harassed myself, I take sexual harassment allegations very seriously. Sexual harassment should never be tolerated. If I had witnessed any sexual harassment in the state legislature, I certainly would have put a stop to it. If anyone had brought accusations like this to my attention at the time, of course I would have acted immediately. Frankly, I am shocked to learn that I’m even referred to in this suit, and as a former colleague I hope she is not being exploited ahead of the election.”

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.