HARTFORD, CT — An anonymous survey of 593 employees, legislators, lobbyists, and others who work at the state Capitol complex found most of the sexual harassment experienced in the building both past and present is being perpetrated by legislators.
The survey conducted by the Office of Legislative Management in April and May sought to gauge the culture of sexual harassment in the building. It found most of the sexual harassment that occurs is hostile work environment sexual harassment, rather than quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment includes any unwanted sexual conduct including offensive sexual pictures, sexual jokes, sexual comments, or sexual contact in ways that interfere with a person’s ability to perform their job.
At least 22 percent of the 590 people who responded to that question said they had experienced this type of sexual harassment at the state Capitol complex. Most included sexual jokes or stories and sexual comments, compliments or innuendos. At least 55 people said they had experienced unwelcome physical contact such as kissing, touching, patting, pinching, or brushing against a person’s body.
The anonymous comments added below the question described the building atmosphere as a “boys club.”
Most of the hostile work environment sexual harassment was perpetrated by lawmakers, according to the survey. At least 86 people reported being harassed by a legislator, 64 reported being harassed by legislative staff, and 32 people said they were harassed by a lobbyist.
But it’s not rampant. There were 439 people who responded that they had not experienced hostile work environment sexual harassment.
Asked about what they did to stop, report, or remedy the situation, 63 people said they simply “avoided the person,” another 26 sought advice from a trusted person, and 34 people asked the perpetrator to stop.
“My only experience with harassment has been with a legislator,” one respondent said. “Disciplinary actions against a sitting legislator are not likely so this is a big reason why people don’t report harassment or hostile work environment.”
Another respondent said “this is a primarily male-dominated organization. As such, it may give women the perception (whether true or false) that their complaints will not amount to much and it therefore is a greater risk to complain at all.”
Yet another said that reporting of harassment by legislators needs to be available outside of the political structures in the building. The person said there are few complaints because everyone is afraid of what would happen to the person who complained since a lawmaker can’t be removed from office.
“I believe that reporting will impact my ability to continue to do my work in the building,” one respondent said.
When it comes to quid pro quo sexual harassment, of the 3 percent who reported experiencing it, 15 said it involved a legislator, six said it involved senior caucus staff, and three said it involved senior nonpartisan staff.
Respondents were divided in their awareness of the procedure for filing a sexual harassment complaint. About 50 percent were aware and 49.6 percent were unaware.
A majority (72 percent) of the respondents were confident they would know what to do if they experienced sexual harassment. And only 2.8 percent said they had experienced quid pro quo sexual harassment, which is where someone in authority offers a job-related benefit in exchange for sexual favors.
Those who had experienced this type of sexual harassment said it was done by legislators in most instances, senior caucus staff and senior nonpartisan staff in other instances.
“In my experience as a lobbyist, the quid pro quo was not explicit but there seemed to be an expectation that you’d have to tolerate either the words or the actions in order to continue to have the lobbying conversation,” one respondent wrote.
The survey was part of the process legislative leadership started six months ago to examine its own sexual harassment policies. As a result of the survey and other conversations, they believe they drafted a better policy even if that policy doesn’t prohibit lawmakers from having relationships with their staff — a point that was raised during a public hearing in April.
The new sexual harassment policy covers the interaction of legislators and other partisan and nonpartisan staff away from the Capitol complex at legislative-sponsored events, professional meetings or seminars, and those activities that involve legislative business. It also creates a formal and informal complaint process for anyone who feels they’ve been subjected to sexual harassment.
“After an extensive review of the results of last spring’s survey, and working with experts and outside counsel, we believe that the updated policy makes clear that the General Assembly does not tolerate sexual harassment in any form,” Sen. Presidents Martin Looney and Len Fasano, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said in a statement. “Our goal is to provide a work environment in which instances of harassment can be reported without fear of retaliation and where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and free from sexual harassment, both subtle and overt.”
The new policy says that if a legislative leader violates the policy, then the administrator should provide written notice to the Senate or House chairperson and ranking members of the Judiciary and General Administration and Elections Committee who are of the same political party.
Other legislators who may have violated the policy will be reported to legislative leaders and the chief of staff of the legislator’s caucus.
The consequences for any legislator include an oral or written warning, reprimand, reassignment with any corresponding reduction in pay, appointment of a committee of inquiry to further examine the matter, or expulsion.