By Ovetta Wiggins Ovetta
Eleven sexual harassment complaints were filed against Maryland state lawmakers in the past year, officials said Thursday. It was the first annual compilation of allegations in the General Assembly, ordered as part of an effort by the legislature to strengthen its anti-harassment policies.
The state legislative policy committee voted last December to require the human resources manager within the Department of Legislative Services to track discrimination complaints, including sexual harassment, as part of a larger effort to update the legislature’s anti-sexual harassment policy. In a report provided to the state Legislative Policy Committee on Thursday, there were a total of 17 discrimination complaints filed against legislators.
Eleven involved sexual harassment, the report said. One was discrimination based on gender, and five were classified as harassment of “nonprotected groups.”
No details of the allegations were provided.
Nine of the complaints against legislators were referred to the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethics, according to Lori Mathis, director of the Office of Operations and Support Services, who provided the report. One was referred for criminal investigation.
Previously, the General Assembly’s human resources manager investigated complaints of inappropriate behavior but did not track the number of complaints or their outcomes, or report any data on alleged misconduct to lawmakers.
The Women Legislators of Maryland, a legislative caucus, made overhauling the policy a top priority during the 2018 session. Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), who chaired the caucus this year, called the accounting “a good starting point,” noting that “we don’t have numbers to compare it to from the past.”
“We don’t know if this is an uptick or if legislators were on their best behavior last year,” said Kelly, who wrote a column in The Washington Post a year ago that described being grabbed and humiliated by male colleagues in her early days as a lawmaker. “I’m just thankful that we have the data and look forward to continued improvements.”
Mathis told the committee that the number of complaints does not necessarily correlate to the number of lawmakers involved, since there “could be duplicate complaints” against the same person.
In addition to the complaints filed against lawmakers, there were allegations against two General Assembly employees and three individuals who are not legislative employees. The report did not include names.
Earlier this year, Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore City) was publicly accused of misconduct, as was lobbyist Gil Genn.
The ethics committee spent eight months investigating the allegations against Anderson, who denied wrongdoing. The panel found no evidence to support a 2004 sexual assault claim but concluded that he had made inappropriate sexual comments over the years. The panel found there was sufficient evidence to conclude that Anderson “engaged in conduct contrary to the General Assembly’s anti-harassment Policy.”
This summer, Anderson was stripped of his leadership position by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
During the height of the debate over how to rework the anti-sexual harassment policy, Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery) accused Genn of touching her inappropriately at a social gathering in Annapolis. Genn vehemently denied the allegation.
On Thursday, after hearing the report, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) asked: “What happens to complaints against lobbyists?”
Victoria Gruber, executive director of the Department of Legislative Services, said they are sent to the State Ethics Commission, which, she said, is designing a plan for dealing with complaints.
Via Washington Post