Illinois House speaker discloses harassment complaints
By John O’Connor
AP Political Writer
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan released a list Tuesday of nine complaints of sexual harassment, retaliation or discrimination investigated by his state office in the past five years and how they were resolved, hoping to get ahead of criticism that he’s mismanaged the issue.
“I’m not resigning,” the longest-serving state House speaker in U.S. history told reporters after a three-hour closed-door meeting with his Democratic caucus meeting. “I’m moving forward.”
The Chicago lawmaker, who is also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, said the review did not preclude an independent investigation into his response to complaints of sexual harassment by campaign aides. He agreed to the outside probe suggested by a House member, but nonetheless, several officeholders, including Democratic candidates for governor, have called for him to step aside as speaker or as party chairman.
Madigan, 75, said he has sent the list, which did not include several categories of possible complaints, to the other three legislative leaders and invited them to do the same type of review. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown declined to release the letter until the recipients see it.
“In light of the questions that we have received from numerous sources of the nature of the complaints in our office, it’s an ability to educate and to help people work their way through this matter,” Madigan said. “And my point would be that I’ve done it, and I would recommend to the others that they do it, too.”
The list included lawmakers, staff members and a lobbyist who made sexual comments, made unwanted advances, or refused to pay wages to staff members, among other infractions. In three cases, legislators made sexual comments to women staff members or retaliated by refusing to pay wages. A male staffer reported that a male supervisor created a hostile work environment and touched the staffer. In one case two lawmakers reported that a lobbyist was making a woman staffer uncomfortable with unwanted advances.
Madigan lawyer Heather Wier Vaught noted resolutions included counseling, reassignment, and supervision of future interactions between an offender and the person making the complaint. The lobbyist’s employer reassigned him.
But a list of “exclusions” at the bottom of the document listed complaints by one legislator against another; complaints by a lawmaker against a lobbyist; complaints by a staff member “regarding manner of treatment or derogatory comments;” complaints about a member of another of the legislative caucuses, which would have been referred to that caucus; and “unresolved complaints,” the number of which Vaught could not specify.
Names were not included to preserve confidentiality, which Vaught pointed to when asked whether the people complaining were satisfied with the resolution. She said identifying the dates of each would give clues to the people involved, but that the oldest was in 2013 and the latest more recently.
Madigan has dismissed two political staffers in recent weeks after publicity about alleged separate sexual harassment complaints by campaign workers. He then asked three women officeholders — U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza and state Rep. Carol Ammons — to instigate conversations about women and their roles in the party.
Vaught said with reporters and lawyers calling multiple Madigan staff members to ask about harassment, and rumors swirling, “The point of this document, in part, is to show you, here’s what we really heard, here’s what we really received, here’s how we handled it.”