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Ex-state employee says workplace harassment widespread

Shandi Donald filed complaints against IDOI Chief of Staff
Posted: 6:00 AM, Jan 31, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-31 23:33:30-05
Shandi Donald.JPG

INDIANAPOLIS — Former state employees say workplace harassment is widespread in Indiana state government, and that the state does not follow its own written policy regarding misconduct.

Shandi Donald, a former clerical assistant at the Indiana Department of Insurance, said the problem got so bad she resigned, while her accused harasser kept his job.

“I believe this is a very big problem,” Donald said.

Much like other workplaces, Indiana state government has a workplace harassment prevention policy in place to protect workers.

“The State will not tolerate workplace harassment, whether engaged in by fellow employees, supervisors, officers, or by outside clients or other non-employees who conduct business with the State,” read the state’s policy. “The State encourages reporting of all incidences of alleged harassment, regardless of who the offender may be or the offender’s status.”

The state’s policy also prohibits retaliating against employees who report harassment.

“Retaliation is a serious violation of this policy and should be reported immediately,” read the policy. “Any person found to have engaged in misconduct constituting retaliation against another individual for the good faith reporting of harassment may be disciplined up to and including dismissal from employment.”

Call 6 Investigates spoke with half a dozen current and former employees who said the state is not following that workplace harassment policy, and good workers are leaving because of it.

Shandi Donald, of Indianapolis, is married with a young daughter, which is one of the main reasons she decided to speak out about workplace harassment.

“People will continue to experience this, and I for one don’t want my child to experience this as she gets into the workforce,” Donald said.

Donald resigned from the Indiana Department of Insurance in June 2018 after what she called repeated sexual harassment from then-Chief of Staff Doug Webber.

Donald said the issues started in December 2017, a few months after she started working in the licensing division.

Donald provided several examples of what she called inappropriate comments made by Webber.

“He said ‘it's really cold outside, let me put my hands on your butt’ and reached for my hind end,” Donald said. “I backed away and I said ‘excuse me?’"

Webber denied the allegations to RTV6.

Donald said Webber made another remark among a group of employees.

"We were talking about sports in high school, and he came down and chimed into the conversation and I had talked about being a cheerleader and he asked if I did cartwheels in skirts," said Donald. “I looked at everyone else. They all had the same face like ‘did he really just say that’?

Donald described another example that she said also happened in a group setting.

“He was referencing a Christmas party at his home for the Department of Insurance and asked if people were going to be wearing an ugly sweater,” Donald said. “He made the comment that he was going to get one that says #MeToo. At that point, a couple people walked away."

Sexual misconduct survivors coined the phrase #MeToo as a way to shine light on the issue.

Donald said at the time, employees did not feel comfortable speaking out against Webber.

“You can’t say anything to the Chief of Staff,” Donald said. “You’ll lose your job.”

Donald said she and her co-workers trusted and looked up to Webber.

“It makes you emotional, because it’s the people you don’t expect,” Donald said. “It’s even harder when it’s someone you didn’t peg for that kind of person.”

Call 6 Investigates spoke with another former IDOI employee who did not want to be identified, who said he was there for several of Webber’s remarks and said Donald’s accounts are accurate.

In January 2018, Donald reported Webber’s comments to the State Personnel Department verbally and in emails.

“The way he would make people feel — it was awful,” Donald said.

Donald provided copies of the emails sent to state personnel to Call 6 Investigates.

"I told (state personnel) I fear for retaliation,” Donald said. “It's not a very good work environment as far as the people who are in charge, and I’m afraid my life is going to be made hell."

Donald said state personnel assured her the state does not tolerate retaliation.

But Donald said when she went on vacation, several co-workers told her another supervisor went through her desk and recycling bins.

“I believe they were looking for anything they possibly could,” Donald said.

Webber denied any involvement in the desk incident.

Following Donald’s workplace harassment complaint in January 2018, Webber remained in his role as Chief of Staff at the Indiana Department of Insurance for 11 months until he retired on Dec. 1.

State personnel did investigate Donald’s workplace harassment complaint, however, the findings of that investigation are not public record.

“INSPD investigates all workplace harassment complaints we receive,” Carlo Bertollini, spokesperson for state personnel, said.

According to personnel records obtained by Call 6 Investigates, Webber did not face disciplinary suspension, demotion or termination.

He earned $123,231 at the Department of Insurance as Chief of Staff, overseeing the regulation of insurance in Indiana, records show.

A licensed attorney, Webber also served as general counsel for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and IDOI, as well as numerous roles at the Indiana Attorney General’s office dating back to 1976.

Donald provided emails to RTV6 that showed state personnel encouraged her to apply for different jobs within state government.

“I think that sends a message that ‘how about you hush, and we will just remove you from the situation,’” Donald said. “It made me feel small.”

Donald resigned from her job in June 2018 once she found another job in the private sector.

She said the state is not following its own policies regarding workplace harassment and retaliation.

“I’ve also seen it with issues of race, I’ve seen it with someone being a woman, and the list goes on and on,” she said.

Call 6 Investigates spoke with half a dozen former and current state employees who said workplace harassment is rampant.

A former official with the Indiana Department of Child Services, James Wide, filed a formal complaint alleging racial discrimination, retaliation, intimidation, and hostile work environment within the state agency.

Wide settled with the Department of Child Services, and now works in the private sector.

Former DCS adoption manager Sandra Caesar also alleged racial discrimination in a formal complaint to the State Employees’ Appeals Commission, but still lost her job.

The SEAC judge sided with DCS, and found no basis for Caesar’s discrimination claims.

The state currently employs 30,822 people including full time active and suspended workers.

Since Jan. 2016, state employees have filed 383 claims to the State Personnel Department regarding workplace harassment.

Of those, the State Personnel Department came back with a finding of inappropriate behavior in 55 percent of the claims.

• 2016: 86 claims, 46 with some finding of inappropriate behavior.

• 2017: 98 claims, 53 with some finding of inappropriate behavior.

• 2018: 199 claims, 110 with some finding of inappropriate behavior.

In July 2018, Call 6 Investigates requested to view workplace harassment complaints in Indiana state government generated since 2013, as well as the names of employees involved.

The State Personnel Department largely denied our request, saying the Indiana Access to Public Records Act generally exempts public employee personnel files from disclosure.

“The purpose of the administrative investigation of a workplace harassment complaint is to determine whether a violation occurred and if corrective or disciplinary action is warranted,” Ashley Hungate, spokeswoman for the Indiana State Personnel Department, said in an email to RTV6.

Donald said the state needs to do more to address workplace harassment.

“If you have policies that are supposed to be followed then you need to follow them,” she said. “It needs to be followed by every agency no matter what position that person is in."

Call 6 Investigates requested an on-camera interview with Webber and outlined Donald’s allegations, including his alleged comment about wanting to touch her buttocks.

Webber provided a statement to RTV6.

“When I was initially informed that Shandi Donald thought that something I said was offensive to her, I thought it was simply a misunderstanding because there was no sexual content in our brief conversation. I assured her that I did not say what she thought was said but apologized for any discomfort my comment caused her. I still feel the same way today on both counts.

Ms. Donald then filed a complaint with the State Personnel Department (SPD) alleging that I made a comment containing a sexual reference that I did not make. SPD conducted an investigation.

As this was a personnel matter, I would refer you to SPD as to what portions of their investigation and findings can be released.

I do not recall a conversation involving high school cheerleading activities.

I do recall making a #MeToo shirt comment to a group of IDOI staff at IDOI when asked what to wear to the Christmas party for IDOI employees at my house. My recall is that Shandi Donald and her husband attended the party.”

Webber thanked Call 6 Investigates for the opportunity to respond.

“However, I will have no further comment and decline your invitation for an interview,” Webber said in an email.

Donald said she is trying to move forward with her new job, but her experience at Indiana state government has made it difficult to trust others in the workplace.

“It has affected my personal life,” Donald said. “(Webber) still gets to go on with his life without any repercussions.”

Call 6 Investigates requested an on-camera interview with the Indiana Department of Insurance Commissioner Stephen Robertson, however, the agency declined our request.

“We cannot comment on personnel matters,” Jenifer Groth, spokeswoman for IDOI, said in an email to RTV6.

Webber earned 32 years of service in state government, and is entitled to his retirement benefits.

In general, whether an employee is fired, resigns, or retires has no bearing on whether they can receive their retirement benefits.

“In cases of embezzlement where an employee defrauds an employer, there may be an impact to their INPRS benefits,” Natalie Derrickson, INPRS spokeswoman, said.

If you feel you are being a victim of workplace harassment here’s what you can do:

  • Don’t ignore the harassment
  • Tell the accuser the conduct is unwelcome
  • Keep careful notes on what happened
  • Document everything — in emails if you can, versus on the phone
  • Review your company’s policies
  • Report the conduct, but know anything you report to human resources can be shared with others

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