Harassment, bad behavior at Colorado Capitol not widely reported despite prevalence, report finds

DENVER – Most workers at the Colorado state Capitol generally say they feel comfortable there, but there are extensive issues that need to be addressed to reform the process by which harassment is handled, according to the long-anticipated independent report into the workplace environment released Thursday.

“The most important factor that drives workplace behavior is culture, and the culture of the Legislative Workplace requires transformation,” reads the 235-page report from the Investigations Law Group.

The team of six was contracted to put together the report last year amid a host of allegations that at least five Colorado lawmakers sexually harassed legislative aides, interns or other lawmakers.

Since the investigation began, Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat, was expelled from the state House of Representatives over sexual harassment allegations, and the Senate voted against expelling Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, over allegations he slapped a woman’s buttocks.

Investigations into both men found they “more likely than not” committed the alleged behavior, but the votes over their expulsions ended differently. Baumgardner was forced to step down from one of his committee chairmanships, but the former Senate minority leader stepped down in protest of the handling of Baumgardner’s case.

In the report publicly released Thursday, which was provided to lawmakers earlier this week, the investigators note 10 problems involving the General Assembly’s current policies and offer a series of possible solutions, which lawmakers will have to vote to adopt before the end of this year’s session on May 9. Some of the lawmakers were skeptical Thursday they could get the new policy done by that date.

It says that “almost everyone” surveyed felt “safe” or “comfortable” working at the Capitol, though 30 percent of respondents told investigators they’d either seen or experienced harassment themselves. Only a small percentage reported the harassment, they told the investigators.

And about half of people the team interviewed said they’d seen sexist or “seriously disrespectful” behavior among people working at the Capitol.

The report says most of the people who didn’t report behavior they’d witnessed said they didn’t do so because they feared reprisal.

The report says there are many facets of the current policy that are inadequate or need reforming—something the investigators said was typical in most state legislatures until last year.

It says that retaliation, which played a big part in Lebsock’s expulsion, is “a real concern that is not adequately addressed in the present system.” A summary also says that the partial confidentiality allowed to some of the parties should be changed, and that accountability for liable parties needed to be strengthened and “made consistent.”

“The whole reason I came forward is never just about me.  It was about our aides, our interns, our lobbyist and really shining a light on this culture, and now the data backs me up,” said Representative Faith Winter, D-Westminster, one of Lebsock's accusers. “The biggest challenge is going to be, changing culture is hard.  We can change a law in three days here, that’s how long it takes to pass a law, but changing culture actually takes time, it takes hearts and minds, it takes awareness, it takes training, it takes education, but we’re on the first step to doing that.”

“Having a more judicious process, about how to handle such complaints, having third parties do it,” is an approach supported by Representative Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock. “It’s not totally possible, but as much as possible as we can, we can actually take the politics out of the policy."

The report suggests that the current Human Resources department is understaffed and inadequately empowered, and recommends the creation of a new Office of Legislative Culture that would be staffed by three new positions: an equal employment opportunity officer, a workplace culture specialist and a workplace culture ombudsperson.

It also recommends creating separate paths for the resolution of complaints depending on whether the accused is a lawmaker or works at the Capitol in another capacity.

The report also recommends annual reports be made available for the public on the number of complaints and resolutions made each year, and recommends a thorough re-evaluation process for the workplace harassment policies.

Denver7's Meghan Lopez and Marc Stewart contributed to this report.

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