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House Hires Woman As HR Chief After Harassment Review

January 4, 2019

By Colin A. Young

State House News Service

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts House has hired a woman with experience running human relations for Raytheon and Bright Horizons Family Solutions to serve as the House’s human resources director, a new position created as the branch works to update its policies dealing with harassment reporting and prevention.

The House Committee on Rules announced Thursday that it has appointed Katherine Palmer, who has most recently worked as a human resources consultant, to serve as the House’s chief of human resources for a two-year term. The committee said Palmer specializes in “employee relations, workforce planning, employment law and establishing governance and compliance practices.”

In March, the House adopted a package of new rules -- recommended by the House counsel and a team of attorneys hired to study the House’s policies around workplace sexual harassment -- that included a new investigation process for harassment claims and new human resources employees, including a director of human resources.

The review was conducted and new rules were adopted in response to what House officials said was an “overarching perception” that there are minimal confidentiality protections for people who report sexual harassment in the Massachusetts House.

“The House has taken important steps over the past 14 months to strengthen our human resources function and to update our human resources policies and procedures, and this appointment will drive those efforts further,” Rules Committee Chairman Rep. William Galvin said in a statement announcing Palmer’s appointment.

Palmer will be charged with “developing and implementing new human resource practices and advancing the House’s strategy for fostering positive organizational change and ensuring a safe and productive working environment.”

Previously, Palmer worked as vice president of employee affairs at the Watertown-based Bright Horizons Family Solutions, which employs about 32,000 people across five countries.

She also has experience in various human resources roles for Raytheon Company in Waltham.

“I’m excited to accept this opportunity to lead the effort to develop stronger and more effective human resources practices for the Massachusetts House of Representatives,” Palmer said in a statement released by the Rules Committee. “This is a unique environment, and I am eager to bring my experience leading HR strategy and practice to support the House as it takes its talent strategy to the next level.”

Palmer holds a master’s degree in business management from the Simmons Graduate School of Management and a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University, the committee said.

The Rules Committee also announced Thursday that it has been unsuccessful in hiring an “equal employment opportunity officer,” to whom all harassment complaints would be referred for investigation.

“Despite multiple postings and candidate interviews by both staff and Members, the Committee has been unable to identify a suitable candidate,” the committee said in a statement. “The position will [be] reposted in early January.”

The House had initially hoped to hire both an HR director and EEO officer by August in order to have the new system for receiving, investigating and resolving complaints in full effect by the start of the 2019-2020 session.

In lieu of a permanent EEO officer, the House on Thursday voted to allow James Kennedy, the House counsel, to contract with an outside consultant to serve as EEO officer for six months with an option to extend the contract for another six months.

The House policy review was launched after a Boston Globe column detailed the experiences of a dozen women -- activists, aides, lobbyists and lawmakers -- who recounted their experiences with sexual harassment in the State House, including instances of inappropriate touching and sexual remarks by men who have left politics and some who are still in office.

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