AP reports: Sex harassment case spurs MN Public Safety payout

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety will pay a veteran employee almost twice her annual salary to settle a lawsuit that alleged persistent sexual harassment and groping at agency headquarters, and that a supervisor ignored pleas for help and instead retaliated, according to court documents and interviews by The Associated Press.

Tina Cramer signed the $95,000 settlement Wednesday. But the agreement doesn't fully answer questions about how concerns raised by her and at least one other employee alleging harassment were addressed. Both involved the same male employee, who has not been formally disciplined. Cramer's supervisor was reprimanded for failing to adequately handle her harassment report.

The department denies any wrongdoing but declined several requests to release materials from an internal investigation. It said the inquiry is considered open, and withheld other documents saying they were private personnel data.

Under the settlement, the state will pay $70,000 in cash and about $24,500 toward Cramer's health insurance premiums through October 2016. In exchange, Cramer will resign from a state job she held for 10 years.

Cramer sued in late September, after mediation talks broke down over the summer, and the AP discovered the lawsuit in court records. Her attorney, David Lewis, said settlement talks re-opened soon after AP began pressing the agency for details.

He said his client feels vindicated.

"It's not the best settlement that she could have gotten," Lewis said. "But it's something she feels was just and meets her immediate needs."

Department spokesperson Bruce Gordon said he couldn't discuss specific legal action.

"The Department of Public Safety is fully committed to a safe and positive work environment for all our employees," Gordon said in a statement. "Every DPS employee is required to complete a course on respectful workplace conduct and harassment, and we hold all employees accountable for actions that are contrary to agency policy and state or federal law."

Cramer, 42, worked in a Public Safety division where employees scanned paper forms of vehicle titles and crash records into an electronic system. She said fellow employee Jim Miller began making comments about her appearance and smell in 2010, remarks that became increasingly sexual. She also accused him of grabbing her breasts, once leaving a bruise after forcefully twisting her nipple.

Cramer said when she eventually talked to her supervisor, Karen Regan, in 2011 she was called unethical and a liar. She also said her boss treated her with hostility after that.

Cramer's personnel file indicates she was reprimanded in 2014 by Regan for taking "excessive" sick leave, for not being productive enough and for using her personal cellphone during work hours. (Cramer's file shows she had been suspended years earlier by a different official over violation of electronic communication policies.)

Cramer contends the write-ups cost her a position in another division when she tried to transfer. Then in April of this year, Cramer said, she returned from lunch and learned her desk had been moved closer to Miller's.

"I started crying. I ran out and never went back," Cramer told the AP last month. "There was no possible way I could go back into that place ever. I'm a victim and I'm furious."

She went on medical leave after receiving a doctor's evaluation documenting severe emotional distress.

Both Miller, a senior office and administrative specialist, and Regan declined AP interview requests made to them directly and through the agency.

An investigation began after Cramer complained in writing to human resources. In May, Driver and Vehicle Services Director Patrick McCormack reprimanded Regan for not following policies for handling sexual harassment allegations. "Instead, staff members who brought reports of incidents of harassment to you were dismissed as something that Jim Miller would not do," read a disciplinary letter that described the violation as serious.

The other employee, who spoke with AP on condition of anonymity because she fears retaliation, spoke to agency investigators on camera to corroborate Cramer's allegations. She said she also told them Miller made sexual remarks to her, and touched her lightly on her arm or lower back before she would pull his hand away. She said he also told her who in the department he would like to sleep with.

The woman has consulted a lawyer about potential civil action, and worries she was passed over for a promotion already for speaking up.

Cramer was informed by letter in September that the investigation was complete.

Public Safety officials denied release of investigative data, including an April memo from the Internal Affairs/Affirmative Action Division. General Counsel Joseph Newton said the investigation technically remains open pending possible discipline of Miller and that data from that probe pertaining to Regan is not public, other than the reprimand letter.

Partial personnel files for Miller and Regan obtained under an open records request show no other discipline but that each completed a 2½-hour sexual harassment prevention course in 2007.