Report on sexual harassment in the Iowa State Senate Republican caucus says staffers fear retaliation if they speak up

The Iowa State Capitol. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

The report that Iowa Senate President Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, claimed clearly showed the Senate Republican caucus no longer has a problem with sexual harassment was finally released on Friday, as most Iowans were busy with Black Friday shopping and Thanksgiving leftovers. The redacted two-page long report is light on details, but documents that staffers fear retaliation if they report problems, and that the problem of harassment goes beyond staff and includes the actions of Republican senators.

Dix ordered an internal review of sexual harassment in the state Senate Republican caucus following a lawsuit that ended with a former Senate Republican staffer being awarded $2.2 million, after a jury found the caucus violated laws against workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. The review was conducted by Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson and Mary Earnhardt, a senior aide to Dix.

Dix has described the review as thorough, but according to the report, the review was largely limited to a “series of individual interviews … with the current Senate Republican Caucus Staff and the current full-time staff of the Secretary of the Senate’s office.”

The report notes the review was “a very delicate matter that involved colleagues and subordinates” and “this may have had a chilling effect on some responses.” But the in-house nature of the review wasn’t the biggest obstacle in getting responses. According to the report:

Several of the staff members interviewed indicated they possess a fear of retaliation, which is why they do not feel comfortable reporting any incidents of harassment. Further, they would be unlikely to report any future incidents, should they arise due to this fear.

This reluctance to speak about sexual harassment extends beyond problems in the caucus to problems with the senators themselves.

Many of the Senate Republican Caucus Staff members said that there is an environment on the Senate Floor with Senators making sexually suggestive comments or about sexual preferences. [sic]

But, “Most staff members who mentioned this declined to give specific Senators [sic] names or details about these instances.”

In his Nov. 14 press conference, during which he claimed sexual harassment was no longer a problem in the Republican Senate caucus, Dix said several times that the caucus now had zero tolerance policy on harassment that was working. The report does not support this.

“Both current and past harassment prevention training is [sic] ineffective,” the report states. The authors add, “There is some confusion as to the phrase ‘zero tolerance policy’ for harassment as reflected in the Senate Personnel Guidelines.”

Dix had consistently opposed making the report public. After widespread criticism, he announced last week a redacted version of the report would be published online.