An independent investigation into sexual-harassment claims made against state Sen. Jack Tate by a former state House intern found it "more likely than not" that Tate engaged in behavior ranging from …
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State Senate Republicans called for claims of unwanted sexual touching and sexual harassment to be investigated by the Denver District Attorney on March 1.
If the DA found evidence for and prosecuted criminal sexual misconduct, and lawmakers were found guilty, Republicans would move in the House and Senate to expel those found guilty, a news release said.
In recent months in the Legislature, independent investigators from a company specializing in employment law called the Employers Council have evaluated claims and presented findings for top lawmakers to use in their decisions to issue punishments.
A source at the Capitol who spoke on condition of anonymity said Senate Republicans would still consider punishments if the independent investigations suggest violation of the Capitol's workplace-harassment policy, the current standard against which claims are weighed. But it's unclear which claims would qualify as criminal misconduct and if both the current investigators and outside law enforcement would investigate in such cases if claims were to be brought to police.
Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, characterized the move as “an attempt to delay and distract from what should be a straightforward process."
“The potential for a criminal investigation does not remove our obligation to create a work environment free from all forms of harassment,” Guzman said in a statement.
The DA's office sent a letter to the office of Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, the morning of March 2 clarifying that the DA does not have jurisdiction to "investigate or enforce civil matters or workplace policies." DA Beth McCann said the office is not initiating an investigation based on Grantham's letter.
Sexual harassment that meets criteria for criminal sexual assault or unlawful sexual contact should be criminally investigated "apart from the separate authority" of the Legislature to investigate allegations of misconduct on its own, the DA's letter said.
Amid criticism of the Employers Council from several Republicans, the Senate has moved to using the services of another firm, Littleton Alternative Dispute Resolution, in at least two investigations into sexual harassment, KUNC reported March 1.
Those two formal complaints are against state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, KUNC reported. A complaint filed against Baumgardner in November had already been deemed more likely than not to be accurate by the Employers Council.
Two more formal complaints of harassment against Baumgardner were filed in February, KUNC reported.
Republican state Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial makes the list of five state lawmakers formally accused of sexual harassment in recent months, which includes former Rep. Steve Lebsock, who was elected as a Democrat in Thornton and was expelled from the Legislature by a House vote on March 2.
Lebsock's was the first expulsion of a House legislator since 1915. House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder — who was in charge of reviewing the investigation into allegations against Lebsock — released a memo to House lawmakers Feb. 27 recommending a resolution to remove Lebsock from the House.
Claims against Lebsock included 10 allegations of sexual harassment — and one allegation of retaliation — by five women, according to that memo.
The investigator for the Employers Council, a company specializing in employment law that investigates harassment claims and facilitates sexual-harassment training for the Capitol, found all 11 allegations more likely than not to be accurate.
The Colorado Legislature's workplace-harassment policy pertains to conduct that has the “purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.” It bars sexual harassment, other workplace harassment and retaliation against claims of harassment.
Among Lebsock's accusers was state Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat who filed a complaint against him in mid-November.
Lebsock was running for state treasurer and is still continuing his campaign, his website said as of mid-December. His campaign is listed as active with the state Secretary of State's Office as of March 2.
A former legislative aide filed against Baumgardner Nov. 26, claiming he slapped and grabbed her buttocks multiple times during the 2016 legislative session in the Capitol building during the workday, KUNC reported. The investigation into the claims found them more likely than not to be accurate, KUNC reported.
Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, has faced allegations filed in mid-November by Thomas Cavaness, an organizer for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis' gubernatorial campaign. Rosenthal was a candidate for state House at the time of the alleged incident. House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, dismissed the complaint because Rosenthal wasn't a lawmaker at the time.
In January, a complaint formally brought against Sen. Larry Crowder in November by state Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, was found more likely than not to be accurate, KUNC reported Feb. 8. Lontine alleged Crowder, R-Alamosa, pinched her buttocks during a joint legislative session and that he made an inappropriate sexual remark to her during a dinner at a health-care summit attended by lawmakers and lobbyists, KUNC reported.
An independent investigation into sexual-harassment claims made against state Sen. Jack Tate by a former state House intern found it "more likely than not" that Tate engaged in behavior ranging from up-and-down looks to physical touches that made her uncomfortable, according to an early version of an investigation report.
Tate, a Republican who represents Centennial and surrounding unincorporated areas, did not comment on the new developments, but said in December that he had no recollections of any interactions with his accuser.
“The policy has been that this is a confidential process, and I am respecting that request until it’s complete,” Tate said March 1.
The Employers Council, a company with expertise in employment law that facilitates sexual-harassment training for Colorado lawmakers and investigates harassment claims in the Legislature, evaluated the accusation. The investigation sided with the accuser, according to a report on the investigation obtained by Colorado Community Media. The report, which is marked confidential, was first reported on by public radio station KUNC Feb. 23.
According to the report, the investigator found it “more likely than not that in early 2017, Jack Tate said to (the complainant), while alone with her in an elevator: 'I like the way that skirt looks on you' ... more likely than not that in March of 2017, Jack Tate nudged (the complainant), looked her up and down, and acted flirtatious ... more likely than not that between January and early April of 2017, Jack Tate put his hand on (the complainant's) shoulder multiple times ... more likely than not that around March of 2017, Jack Tate nudged (the complainant) around her waist or rib area, around seven or eight times.”
Such investigations use the language “more likely than not” or “less likely than so” to weigh claims. That method is based on the preponderance-of-evidence standard used in most civil-court cases on equal-employment opportunity matters, according to a state House memo by Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder.
Sexual comments or innuendos about a person's clothing, body or sexual activity can constitute verbal sexual harassment, according to the Legislature's workplace-harassment policy. Patting, pinching or intentionally brushing against a person's body can constitute physical sexual harassment, according to the policy.
The investigation was based on interviews with the accuser, Tate and two individuals who worked in the legislative session and were familiar with the accuser or Tate.
The accuser, who was 18 at the time of the alleged harassment, has remained anonymous for fear of retribution, KUNC has reported. She filed the complaint Nov. 29.
The report on the investigation is dated Jan. 31. But there have been multiple updates to the initial report, state Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, told Colorado Community Media on Feb. 28. A conclusion on the investigation was not yet issued at that time.
“There have been several iterations of the report because the initial version, which may have been issued in January, was returned to the contractor for corrections when an obvious error was caught,” Grantham said. “We're at this point reviewing our options in order to bring the investigative phase to a close.”
Grantham leveled criticism at reports by the Employers Council, claiming there are problems with their “reliability, accuracy and fairness.”
“I would caution against re-reporting selectively leaked, out-of-context excerpts or supposed 'findings' from these reports,” Grantham said. While "others do not value the confidential nature of these reports, I can assure you that we still do. We have expressed concerns in the past with errors, omissions and apparent bias in those reports. We are still working with the vendor to clear up these matters.”
Grantham did not point to specific points in the report that lawmakers take issue with due to confidentiality rules surrounding the sexual-harassment complaint protocol. That process is confidential until lawmakers decide on an outcome based on the investigation's findings. House or Senate leadership makes the decision on whether the facts of the matter support the allegations, whether the actions violate the Legislature's rules and what consequence they may warrant.
The accuser or the accused could speak about a possible punishment if it's given. That could run the gamut from an apology to a more serious sanction.
Top Senate lawmakers have not decided on any possible disciplinary actions as of Feb. 28 due to the pending possible updates to the investigation.
Tate is among five state lawmakers formally accused of sexual harassment in recent months.
• Rep. Steve Lebsock, of Thornton, who was elected as a Democrat but switched to the Republican Party last week. He was expelled from the House by vote March 2.
• Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs
• Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver
• Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa
Amid the cloud of allegations, a handful of the top-ranking lawmakers at the Capitol approved three steps toward changing the Legislature's policies and practices on workplace harassment Dec. 15.
They included hiring a human-resources professional to help handle HR issues, hiring an independent consultant to review the Legislature's workplace-harassment policy, and conducting mandatory annual trainings on harassment prevention for legislators, full-time staff, aides and interns. Such trainings were only required for legislators every two years and for staff only when they're hired.
The HR position is a new role at the Capitol. The review of the Capitol's policy was to pull feedback from victims' advocates, HR professionals, legislators, staff — including aides and interns — and others who work at the Capitol.
The Executive Committee of the Legislative Council made the decision. That body includes Grantham; House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver; state Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker; state Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver; House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder; and state House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock.
The Legislature's leadership chose an independent, third-party contractor, the Denver-based Investigations Law Group, on Jan. 24 to conduct a review of its workplace-harassment policy, which includes rules on sexual misconduct.
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