Originally published on June 30, 2018 10:59 am
Another woman has decided to file a formal complaint alleging sexual harassment by a lawmaker at Colorado’s Capitol. The former legislative intern alleges that Sen. Jack Tate regularly leered at her and nudged her, making inappropriate comments during the 2017 legislative session.
That raises the number of formal complaints against lawmakers to four. Earlier this month, we reported that Rep. Faith Winter and former lobbyist Holly Tarry filed complaints against Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat, alleging unwanted sexual advances and vulgar and inappropriate discussions.
On Nov. 26, a former legislative aide filed a complaint against Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Republican, alleging that he slapped and grabbed her buttocks about four times throughout the 2016 legislative session inside the Capitol building during the work day.
In the fourth complaint filed on Nov. 29 with both the Senate and House, a former intern makes allegations against Tate, a Republican. She was 18-years-old during the legislative session when she alleges he harassed her.
Under House and Senate rules the complaint process is confidential, but we received a copy of the complaint from the former intern, who wishes to remain anonymous. She said she fears retribution and may still pursue a career in politics.
According to the complaint the harassment began when Tate commented on her skirt in an elevator inside the Capitol on her first day.
“Senator Tate made sexual innuendoes concerning the way I was dressed,” the intern wrote. “Noting that the skirt I was wearing fit quite well as he looked me up and down. Senator Tate, during my time at the capital (sic), continued to make comments about my attire in front of my co-workers who also found the situation extremely uncomfortable in the way in which he addressed myself and the way in which he looked at me.”
The complaint also alleges that Tate made a habit of placing his hand on her shoulder and lingering too long “when I'd try to move he'd often wait a moment before letting go.”
The complaint said she eventually avoided going to the Capitol building from her office across the street and noted the harassment when she quit her internship.
Tate was given details of the complaint and issued a response via text message:
"Dear Bente: I take this issue very seriously and am glad that a process is being put in place to clarify this situation. Respectfully, Jack."
According to the complaint process, Tate will learn his accuser’s name. He is not bound to keep that information confidential.
The intern first voiced her allegations in a Nov. 16 story by us saying that he repeatedly made her uncomfortable.
Our story led to other media outlets reporting on Tate and many comments online -- some supportive of Tate. The intern told us comments that seemed to downplay her experiences and debate if she was a victim of sexual harassment led her to file the formal complaint. She also singled out comments by seven women, including prominent female lobbyists and a Democratic state representative publicly backing Sen. Tate.
“If people need a report to make it real in their minds that this happened to me, that’s messed up, but I’ll do it,” the intern said.
The intern’s supervisor, Sophia Laster, Rep. Michaelson Jenet and a fellow intern, Ellie D’Anna, each corroborated that they heard the intern’s concerns about Tate. D’Anna claimed to witness Tate’s interest in the intern and some of his comments about the clothing she wore.
The General Assembly’s workplace harassment policy highlights innuendos about one’s clothing as an example of verbal harassment.
The following are examples of conduct or communication which may constitute sexual harassment
VERBAL: I. Sexual comments or innuendos about one’s clothing, body or sexual activity.
In response to the earlier allegations Tate said it is an honor to serve the state and he has the utmost respect for the men and women he works with. He said he was unaware of any instance in which he made an individual feel uncomfortable.
“I have been at the Capitol for three years and during this time no person has expressed to me or my colleagues that I caused discomfort or created distress,” said Tate.
Public comments regarding Tate cause reflection
Since the original story broke, seven women have come forward in the media to praise Tate’s professionalism.
Longtime lobbyist Micki Hackenberger commented to Channel 7. She said she was asked about her personal professional experience working with Tate who serves as the chair of the Senate Business Labor and Technology Committee. She said she found him professional. In a subsequent Facebook post, she said her personal experiences don’t amount to denying the experiences of someone who alleges harassment.
“If someone says they feel uncomfortable there is no reason not to believe they felt that way,” said Hackenberger.
In an article from the Colorado Springs Gazette's political publication Colorado Politics, six women stated that they have not observed any inappropriate behavior while working with him. Democratic Rep. Jeni Arndt said maybe Tate didn’t understand the perceived power relationship between him and the intern but she doesn’t think it was intentional. Lobbyist Cindy Sovine said Tate is very respectful of his wife and daughter and the women around him.
Lobbyist Adeline Hodge said she was surprised at the allegations, saying “I think we need to focus on the true problem areas.”
Lobbyist Meg Dubray was also shocked: “He’s a friendly guy, he’s from the South.”
Some of the women told us they wanted to clarify or expand on their comments.
“It will never be my intention to chill anyone who feels the need to come forward and whistleblow on people’s inappropriate behavior,” Dubray said. “This movement is an important one. I think it’s long overdue.”
Dubray said her purpose was to highlight the distinctions between the ranges of different allegations.
“I never doubted the intern’s story and it was never my intention to allude I was doubting the intern’s story. That’s not fair to her. I wasn’t there. I can’t refute a story for which I wasn’t there.”
Sovine echoed that sentiment.
“I just didn’t want the intern to feel like I was speaking for her experience,” she said. “‘It didn’t happened to me so it didn’t happen to you.'"
Sovine said she wants to help young aides and interns feel empowered in any situation to not be victims. She said what might be acceptable to one person may not be to someone else.
“Women set the tone for how women treat each other and how men treat women,” said Sovine. “We subscribe to our own cultural beliefs that hold us back. That’s not talked about or addressed in the gotcha mentality.”
Hodge said she hopes for clearer guidelines and that “a better complaint process can be established that is supportive of individuals who may experience sexual harassment at the Capitol.”
Public Relations consultant Wendy Aiello said in a Facebook discussion that she was working with Tate to guide him because she believes in him and she is proud to do it “because he is being unfairly accused.”
Another lobbyist, AnnMarie Jensen, hasn’t weighed in on the Tate allegations. She said she understands why the situation is a difficult one for some of her colleagues at the capitol “when you’ve had nothing but a positive experience with someone” because that makes it “hard to believe they could be capable of doing something you don’t agree with.”
Jensen lobbies for sexual assault victims and victims of domestic violence.
“That outside facing demeanor which a lot of people would see does not mean a person is not capable of other behavior,” Jensen said. “So I would be the kind of person who would never comment one way or the other.”
She said younger women, interns, and aides who are beginning their careers are especially vulnerable because they are less likely to be believed.
The General Assembly’s policies, definitions and processes are under review. Legislative leaders from both parties and both chambers are meeting to reevaluate the workplace harassment policy on Dec. 15. The meeting will take place at the Capitol at 10 a.m. and is open to the public.
Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.
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