ST. PAUL, Minn. - The State of Minnesota paid $709,000 to settle sexual harassment claims from seven state employees out of court.
That revelation came Friday on the same day state officials urged Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers to create a new, independent office to track and investigate complaints of harassment, and to coordinate training efforts.
Currently sexual harassment training, investigations and tracking of cases is fairly decentralized.
"To all state employees who have experienced harassment in the workplace, we see you and we hear you, and we will do better," Commissioner Myron Frans, who heads the Minnesota Dept. of Management and Budget, told reporters at a Capitol press conference.
Gov. Dayton ordered a review of the state's sexual harassment policies in November after two state legislators were accused of sexual misconduct. Both legislators eventually resigned, rather than go through ethics probes.
But those lawmakers, Sen. Danny Schoen and Rep. Tony Cornish, worked in the Legislative branch of government. Friday's report addressed to the executive branch, which employs roughly 33,000 workers.
The study found 266 sexual harassment complaints filed between 2012 and 2017, spread across 23 state agencies.
As one would expect, the agencies with the most employees -- Human Services, Corrections, Transportation and Public Safety -- had the highest number of complaints in that six-year period.
Of those, 135 complaints were substantiated and 19 cases are still pending.
"We don’t want anyone to experience sexual harassment in our agency," Commissioner Myron Frans, who heads the Dept. of Management and Budget, told reporters.
"We don’t want anyone to experience that. If the number’s zero, then we’ll be happy."
Frans warned against reading too much into the fact that, as a percentage of all employees, the number of complaints is a tiny fraction. In many cases, victims don't report the harassing behavior. And, in some cases, anti-harassment training has started to work.
Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said in the era of the "Me Too" movement, people will be more willing to come forward with accusations, or speak up with they've been bullied or harassed in the work place.
"The reports of harassment in my own department are very troubling and unacceptable," Piper remarked. " We must have a respectful work environment to attract and retain the best and brightest in our state. Plus, it’s the right thing to do, and frankly it’s the law."
Frans said substantiated cases can result a range of discipline against the harassers.
"They can result in additional training, coaching, suspension, oral or written reprimands, demotions, and-or discharge," Frans said. "So, there’s a wide range of things that can happen if it is substantiated."