Ex-Iowa Senate GOP caucus staffer awarded $2.2M in lawsuit
Jul. 18, 2017
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A jury awarded $2.2 million Tuesday to a former Iowa Senate Republican caucus aide who sued the state and others for sexual harassment, and Iowa taxpayers will foot the bill.
Jurors determined that Kirsten Anderson, who was fired in 2012 as the caucus communications director hours after handing in a memo detailing rampant sexual harassment in the caucus office, had suffered emotional distress and damages in the workplace.
The office of Gov. Kim Reynolds confirmed Tuesday that the award will be paid out of Iowa's general fund.
Anderson, 39, testified at trial last week that sex, race and sexual orientation were regular topics of conversations and jokes in the office. Some of her testimony focused on the behavior of a male senior analyst whom she said in 2010 seemed angry and regularly referred to women using an obscenity. Jurors also heard testimony about testified accusing former Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-DeWitt, of making comments about lobbyists' and staffers' breasts and the skirt lengths of female senate pages.
Hamerlinck lost his state senate re-election bid in 2012 and now serves as chairman of the Clinton County Board of Supervisors. Reached by The Associated Press on Tuesday, he asked for more time to respond, but later did not answer calls to his home. He did not return later messages left at his home.
Republican officials had denied she was harassed and argued she was fired because of poor job performance. But several other current and former staffers corroborated her claims of a hostile work environment in testimony at the trial.
State Senate Democratic leader Rob Hogg, of Cedar Rapids, blasted the actions of lawmakers and staff for failing to follow Senate policies already in place to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
"If the Senate's policies and procedures had been followed, this $2.2 million verdict could have been avoided and taxpayers wouldn't have to pay the bill for the inappropriate actions of Republican Senators and staff," Hogg said in a written statement.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix expressed disappointment in the verdict and insisted in a written statement that Anderson was fired "only for her poor work product."
But he acknowledged the office environment prior lacked "professionalism and appropriate behavior" before his tenure as leader.
"Any issues that arose during the trial, which had not previously been reported to a supervisor, will be investigated and addressed immediately," Dix said.