Report: MN needs new office for state gov't sex misconduct claims

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn speaks to a crowd
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn speaks to a crowd with her 3-year-old daughter at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul during a rally against sexual harassment on Nov. 17, 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2017

Updated 3 p.m. | Posted 9:18 a.m.

Minnesota should create an independent office to handle reports of sexual harassment in state government, conduct investigations and enforce policy across state agencies.

That's the top recommendation from a report released Friday by Minnesota Management and Budget.

The report also calls for expanded training on sexual harassment prevention policies, the hiring of "more diverse senior leaders" and ensuring that state agency executives "support a more inclusive culture, act to prevent sexual harassment, and respond appropriately when it occurs."

Data released separately on Friday at the request of MPR News and other media showed that Minnesota state government agencies have paid out $709,000 in settlements since 2015 related to seven sexual harassment cases.

Gov. Mark Dayton ordered the MMB review in November, just as cases of sexual harassment in the Legislature came to light.

Dayton on Friday said he will propose legislation in the upcoming session to create the independent office, which would be "responsible for ensuring even stronger protections against sexual harassment, more immediate responses to complaints, and more consistent consequences for offenders."

The recommendations would cover state agencies. However, they would not cover the Legislature.

GOP Rep. Tony Cornish and state DFL Sen. Dan Schoen resigned from the Legislature recently after misconduct complaints were lodged against them.

In the wake of those claims, Republican and DFL leaders said they'd take steps to create a better workplace atmosphere, including requiring sexual harassment training for every lawmaker and redesigning a complaint system to ensure lawmakers, staff and the public feel protected if they file a complaint against an elected official.

266 sexual harassment complaints were lodged against state employees
There were 266 sexual harassment complaints lodged against state employees from 2012 to 2017.
William Lager | MPR News graphic

MMB Commissioner Myron Frans and Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper told reporters Friday the state was committed to fixing the problems in state agencies on sexual harassment and reporting.

While Minnesota is "doing a lot of things right," the report "shows we have more work to do," said Piper, who called the incidents, including those in her agency, "very troubling and unacceptable."

She said the national #metoo movement, where women in the business and entertainment world have come forward with stories of being sexually abused and pressured by men in power, has "created an environment where people can speak more freely about these issues."

Said Frans: "We want to be able to prove to people that we're transparent and were talking about it. It's one thing to say it. We also want to prove to employees that we do get it and we want to make things better."