- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A former Iowa Senate Republican staffer filed a lawsuit Thursday detailing claims of sexual harassment by male aides and lawmakers over several years.

Kirsten Anderson, former communications director for the Iowa Senate Republican Caucus, alleges she was fired after repeatedly complaining about a fraternity-like environment in which men openly talked about women as objects.

Anderson made similar claims after her dismissal last year, but the lawsuit adds specifics and identifies those who allegedly took part. Two female senators - including U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst - didn’t speak up when they witnessed inappropriate behavior and sexual innuendo by men, the lawsuit alleges.

Republicans have said Anderson was fired because she performed her job poorly and that they don’t tolerate harassment. Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix declined comment Thursday, saying: “I look forward to this case moving through the process.” Ernst expressed shock at being mentioned, saying she would have acted immediately if she witnessed harassment.

Anderson rejected claims that the lawsuit’s timing was politically motivated, saying she was standing up for her right to a discrimination-free workplace.

“Iowa Senate Republicans have done a disservice to those they represent by allowing this inappropriate behavior to take place at the State Capitol for way too long,” she said.

Anderson, 35, contends that claims about her performance were bogus, noting she received a raise months before she was fired.

The lawsuit outlines alleged inappropriate behavior from 2010 to 2013. Anderson says then-Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck talked about women’s breasts and which lobbyists were the biggest flirts, and that he called her “one of the boys.” She also alleges that former Sen. Merlin Bartz told her a pair of shoes she was wearing wasn’t “classy enough” and how he preferred that she style her hair.

The lawsuit focuses largely on a senior analyst who allegedly made “derogatory and vile” remarks toward women. He once asked Anderson to look at something on his computer that turned out to be a naked woman, prompting Anderson to complain to a superior.

In November 2012, the analyst allegedly told Sen. Tim Kapucian that a female Democratic senator once had sex “with the entire college baseball team.” The men laughed, but Anderson complained again, the lawsuit says.

Phone numbers for Bartz and Kapucian rang unanswered. Hamerlinck didn’t immediately return messages.

On Dec. 30, 2012, the analyst made a crude remark saying that one candidate to be Dix’s clerk preferred sex with black men. Anderson and a female colleague expressed disapproval, while Dix aide Ed Failor said he didn’t need to know that and left, the lawsuit says. The analyst later bragged about a Senate employee’s breasts having rubbed up against him.

Anderson began pushing leaders for a new Senate policy on sexual harassment. The existing policy, she learned, was outdated and literally incomplete: every other page was missing.

Dix told a staff meeting that he had zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior, but Anderson alleges the unwarranted scrutiny on her performance started within days. Failor told her in January 2013 she should never use “contractions and possessives” and another superior accused her of making “too many mistakes,” she alleges.

In a May 2013 meeting, supervisors told Anderson that her performance hadn’t improved. Anderson responded with a memo days later denying that, writing that the “crude and hostile work environment I am forced to tolerate each and every day is what this is about.” She was told she could resign or be fired that day.

Anderson, now in the private sector, is seeking damages for lost pay and emotional pain and an order requiring supervisors to undergo more training.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide