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Lawmaker calls for review of state's workplace harassment policy

Posted: 5:50 PM, Feb 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-01 18:38:11-05

INDIANAPOLIS—State lawmakers and former state workers are demanding action following a Call 6 Investigation into workplace harassment in state government.

“I think when you have the public trust, you are held to a higher standard,” Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said. “That affects not just the person you’re violating, but all the taxpayers you represent.”

Call 6 Investigates found state employees filed double the number of workplace harassment complaints in 2017 than they did in 2018.

Since Jan. 2016, state employees have filed 383 claims to the State Personnel Department regarding workplace harassment and of those, SPD found 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.

Reardon is calling on the governor’s office to review whether the state’s current workplace harassment policy is working or not.

Shandi Donald, a wife and mother, was one of the 199 workers who filed a workplace harassment complaint in 2018.

PREVIOUS: State employee says workplace harassment is widespread

She quit her job in June 2016 with the state after Donald said an agency Chief of Staff repeatedly made inappropriate comments.

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’s alleged harasser kept his job for 11 months after her complaint until he retired.

Donald said the evaluate whether the state’s current policy is being enforced.

“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."

Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon saw Call 6 Investigates’ story about workplace harassment.

“It’s very disappointing,” Rep. Reardon said. “Unfortunately, I would say I’m not surprised.”

Reardon said workplace harassment is everywhere.

“To say that people make these things up, why would anybody put themselves through this?” Reardon asked. “To speak out is not an easy thing, and I commend Shandi for being able to speak out and speak her truth, because it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Reardon accused Attorney General Curtis Hill of sexual harassment, and Hill denied the allegations.

PREVIOUS: Rep who accused AG files for protections against sexual harassment

Reardon filed House Bill 1573 which would create an oversight commission which could remove certain elected officials for engaging in sexual misconduct.

The bill is awaiting a hearing.

"I think it's important because we have to continue to hold people accountable,” Reardon said. “We want systemic change and that doesn't occur if we can't even hold people responsible at the top "

Reardon said workplace harassment will continue as long as state workers allow it.

"It's not only important to hold the abusers accountable, but it's also important to hold the people who are complicit in perpetuating the abuse," Reardon said.

Call 6 Investigates requested an on-camera interview with Governor Eric Holcomb and the State Personnel Department and we are still waiting to hear back.

“We put legislation in place all the time for private entities,” Reardon said. “If we can’t follow our own rules, that’s a problem.”

RELATED: Ex-DCS spokesperson says employees subjected to harassment, intimidation

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,” the state’s policy read. “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.

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