Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham said this week they want to review the legislature’s policies on preventing and handling sexual harassment.
Now, if someone files a formal sexual harassment complaint at the Capitol, policy states that an accuser must submit that grievance in writing. It’s passed on to members of the leadership, who then forward the exact complaint to the person who has been accused.
“That policy raises concerns for several reasons,” said Whitney Traylor, an employment law attorney in Denver. “It could have a chilling effect on others who want to make complaints because they feel like there will be retribution.”
Traylor says complaints often feel very personal, and maybe even embarrassing, for an alleged victim. If these full complaints are passed along to the accused, a victim may feel less inclined to come forward for fear of retribution.
“If the person is notified of an accusation before the investigation even happens, that gives them carblange ability to do so many different things,” Traylor said. “If there' was actually sexual harassment that happened and there's evidence of that, they could destroy the evidence, they could put pressure on the person not to pursue the complaint.”
Traylor says it’s not uncommon for the accused to be interviewed with general, open-ended questions, without knowing who exactly filed a complaint against them.
The executive branch, meaning the governor’s office and the offices that answer to him, does not operate this way. According to the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration, accusers are assured:
- they will be protected against retaliation;
- there is a clearly described complaint process that provides accessible avenues to lodge a complaint and that provides a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation;
- the employee’s confidentiality will be protected to the extent possible; and
- the appointing authority or delegated management official will take immediate and appropriate corrective action when he/she determines that harassment has occurred."
Traylor says he does say he can see the positive side of sharing an alleged victim’s name with the accused.
“Sometimes there can be a rush to judgment, and there can be an incomplete investigation,” Traylor said. “"The upside of this policy is that the accused will know exactly what he has been accused of and will then have the opportunity to respond and defend himself or herself."
Sexual harassment complaints involving Colorado state lawmakers will be investigated by a legislative committee inside the Capitol, or handed off to a third-party human resources firm.
Four state lawmakers have been accused of sexual harassment. Some of the accusers have shared their identities with reporters. Others have chosen to remain anonymous. Not all of them have filed formal complaints.