A former state House intern has filed a formal complaint accusing state Sen. Jack Tate of sexual harassment, and Tate said he has no recollections of any interactions with such House employees.
“I do not know the accuser, nor am I familiar with her,” said Tate, a Republican who represents Centennial and surrounding unincorporated areas.
The intern, who has remained anonymous, said Tate acted inappropriately toward her over a time frame of 2 1/2 months, radio station KUNC first reported in November. The allegations add Tate to a list that includes Democratic state Rep. Steve Lebsock, representing Thornton and Northglenn, and state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Republican who represents the northwest corner of Colorado, who have also had harassment complaints filed against them, according to media reports.
The intern gave a copy of the complaint to the radio station, but reports are confidential and not available to the public. Only the person who brings the accusation, the accused, Capitol leadership and outside legal advisers generally have knowledge of such complaints, a Capitol staff member said.
Allegations of repeated harassment
The intern told KUNC that on her first day at work last winter, Tate looked her over and said, “I really like that skirt you’re wearing” while they stood in an elevator.
The Greeley-based radio station reported that she didn’t object at the time, but Tate’s conduct grew increasingly uncomfortable and included leering at her, nudging her, making more comments about her clothes and placing his hand on her shoulder and letting it linger, she said.
Tate said to the then-18-year-old, at one point, that if she wanted “to move up in the world,” to give him a call, she told the FM public radio station.
The woman confided in another intern, Ellie D’Anna, who told KUNC that in an interaction she saw, Tate acted “creepy,” was “hinting at stuff” and commenting on the other intern’s outfit.
Tate, in a phone call with Colorado Community Media on Dec. 12, said that making comments about clothes or making innuendos doesn’t sound familiar to him.
“I’m not aware of any instance in which I made someone else feel uncomfortable,” Tate said in a statement emailed to Colorado Community Media. “In fact, in my three years at the Capitol, no person has ever complained or brought to my attention that I caused discomfort of any kind. Had someone indicated to me that I was making him or her feel uncomfortable, I would have happily addressed the matter at that time.”
The intern, who began working for Democratic state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet in or near January of last year, quit before the regular legislative session ended in the spring, Michaelson Jenet told Colorado Community Media. She didn’t want to stay at the Capitol in part because of Tate’s alleged harassment, said Michaelson Jenet, who represents parts of Thornton, Commerce City and Aurora.
Tate’s and Michaelson Jenet’s offices are on the same floor at the Capitol, and Tate’s and the intern’s schedules placed them in the building at the same times of day, Michaelson Jenet said.
The intern, who has remained anonymous, didn’t tell her about claims of harassment until the day she quit because she hopes to one day work in politics, her former superior added.
She “thinks one day (the complaint) may be used against her,” Michaelson Jenet said.
The intern filed the complaint Nov. 29, and such complaints go to the president of the Senate, Republican state Sen. Kevin Gratham, Michaelson Jenet said. 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.
Defenders of Tate speak up
Several lobbyists and state Rep. Jeni Arndt, a Democrat representing Fort Collins, gave online/print news outlet Colorado Politics comments that expressed surprise and doubt that Tate would harass anyone.
“I’m friends with Jack, and I haven’t seen that,” Arndt told Colorado Politics in a Nov. 18 story. “I don’t think he would ever intentionally do that, even if he said someone looks nice.”
KUNC reported that the five lobbyists all pushed for multiple bills related to Tate in 2017.
Michaelson Jenet discussed the comments with Colorado Community Media, arguing that the power dynamic between Tate and an intern is different than that between him and a lobbyist.
“I am sure that (they) can make whatever they want of their relationship with Tate, and unfortunately, the tactic used in that article has (long) been the tactic used to silence women,” said Michaelson Jenet, who said she was raped at age 14. “The guy who raped me didn’t rape every woman I know. And I have never had a bad experience myself with Tate — not one. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t inappropriate with my intern.
“She is a teenage girl,” Michaelson Jenet said.
For Capitol, a time of reckoning
Regarding the filing of the complaint, Tate, amid a flurry of controversy at the state Capitol over harassment allegations, said he takes the issue seriously.
“(I) am glad that a process is being put in place to clarify this situation,” Tate said in a statement to Colorado Community Media.
Four state lawmakers have had formal complaints lodged against them recently: Tate, Lebsock, Baumgardner and state Rep. Paul Rosenthal, according to media reports. State Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, and former lobbyist Holly Tarry filed against Lebsock for alleged unwanted sexual advances and vulgar and inappropriate discussions. 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.
Lebsock is running for state treasurer and is still continuing his campaign, his campaign website said as of mid-December.
Gov. John Hickenlooper and state House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat representing downtown and north and west Denver, are among the lawmakers who have called for Lebsock’s resignation, several outlets reported.
Rosenthal, a Democrat from Denver, has faced a formal complaint of sexual assault 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, several outlets reported. His attorney argues that the Legislature doesn’t have jurisdiction to handle a complaint because Rosenthal wasn’t a House lawmaker at the time, according to the Associated Press.
Possible change on way
Complaints about sexual harassment against legislators are generally investigated by the top lawmakers in the House or Senate.
The Legislature uses the help of the Employers Council, an employment-law entity that facilitates the sexual-harassment trainings for Colorado lawmakers. They can help with interviewing and fact-finding regarding sexual-harassment claims, but House or Senate leadership ultimately makes the decision of what consequence a claim warrants if found valid.
How long that could take isn’t certain because only the complainant, the accused and the leadership that receives the complaint generally know when someone files a claim. That person, 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.
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, a news release said.
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 are currently 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 release said. The review of the Capitol’s policy will 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, who represents El Paso and other counties south and west of Denver; Duran; state Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican from Parker; state Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, a Democrat of north and west Denver; state House Majority Leader KC Becker, a Democrat representing the Boulder area up to the Wyoming border; and state House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Castle Rock.
Michaelson Jenet and Rep. Daneya Esgar, Democrat from the Pueblo area, have also submitted an initial draft of a code of conduct related to harassment — sexual or otherwise — she hopes the House will approve. The recent allegations against Lebsock, Baumgardner and Tate moved her to write it.
“The public has an expectation that when they interact with a legislator” they “are treated with respect,” Michaelson Jenet said. “They have a right to expect us to treat them with the highest standard. We signed up for that. And everyone should feel safe with us, period.”
The code could move forward in the legislative process in the first weeks of the 2018 regular session, Michaelson Jenet expects. The session starts Jan. 10.
The Legislature already has sexual harassment policies in place, but Michaelson Jenet said the code would “pull together all the pieces in one document to say we agree to be held to a higher standard.”
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