New claims of sexual harassment have been brought up at the Colorado legislature involving Sens. Randy Baumgardner and Jack Tate. Both, in comments to us, strongly deny any wrongdoing, although they refused to answer our specific questions directly. Bente Birkeland reports. Image: Sens. Jack Tate (left) and Randy Baumgardner – PHOTOS COURTESY OF COLORADO SENATE REPUBUBLICANS
Megan Creeden, an intern who was 25 at the time, told us she had many uncomfortable encounters with Baumgardner during the 2016 legislative session. She said Baumgardner often pressured her to drink with him in his office and she didn’t want to be with him in his office alone because she didn’t know him.
She said another reason she didn’t want to drink with him was because of an earlier incident. She recalled sitting next to Scott Merrifield, a legislative aide, in a crowded Senate committee room before a hearing. Baumgardner was also there. Looking at Merrifield, Baumgardner talked about Creeden as she listened. Baumgardner referred to an event a few days earlier that they had attended at the private-membership University Club near the Capitol. He expressed disappointment that he went home alone and not with her.
“It was along the lines of, ‘I met your intern at the University Club and she was just so nice, but then I had to leave all by myself, and walk home all by myself and lay in bed,’” Creeden claimed Baumgardner said. “And he gave a really long sigh.”
Merrifield confirmed that he heard the remark. He said he thought it was out of place.
“I just shook my head,” Merrifield said. “It was creepy.”
Rather than formally complain, Creeden said she tried to avoid Baumgardner when she was at the Capitol. She said a formal complaint is an option she is still considering.
Six other female lobbyists and staffers who declined to be named for this story, fearing going public would affect their work relationships at the Capitol, said they also avoid Baumgardner. Some said they won’t work alone with Baumgardner and only go to his office in pairs or urge male colleagues to work with him instead. Baumgardner chairs the Senate Transportation and the Senate Capital Development Committees.
When asked about general concerns about his behavior, Baumgardner issued a blanket denial of any such allegations.
“I have nothing to talk about and I have done nothing wrong,” Baumgardner told us. “I’ve done nothing that I should be defending myself for.”
Through a Republican spokesman, Baumgardner declined to answer further specific questions about allegations, including those made by Creeden. He referred us to his prior blanket denial.
Sexual harassment incidents exposed
We first reported on allegations of sexual harassment at the state Capitol on Nov. 10. Rep. Faith Winter said that fellow Democrat, Rep. Steve Lebsock, made lewd remarks and grabbed her at a bar during an end-of-the-session party for lawmakers in 2016. Rep. Alec Garnett, also a Democrat, corroborated the story, saying he intervened. Since then two other women have come publicly forward to complain about Lebsock: Winter and former lobbyist Holly Tarry. Both have filed formal complaints.
Lebsock issued a written statement saying he was sorry for how he made the women feel. He publicly addressed the claims at the Capitol on Nov. 14.
“This is a story about blackmail and coercion and extortion, is what this is,” he said.
Lebsock has rebuffed calls to resign from top leaders, including Gov. John Hickenlooper. He continues to run for state treasurer. Lebsock plans to make an announcement regarding his campaign on Nov. 30.
“It’s betrayal,” Lebsock said. “It’s not allowing a fellow Democrat to have due process.”
Allegation against Tate
The legislature’s workplace harassment policy (PDF) states:
“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” are harassing when the conduct is a condition of an individual’s employment, it interferes with an individual’s work performance or it creates an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”
Sophia Laster, a legislative aide for Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, said an intern told her that Sen. Jack Tate, a Republican, had acted inappropriately.
The former intern, who was 18 at the time, spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, because she could be involved in an unrelated sexual assault case involving a different person. She claims Tate was inappropriate with her repeatedly over a period of two-and-a-half months last year.
On her first day at work she claimed Tate was in an elevator with her and said, “‘I really like that skirt you’re wearing.’”
She said she didn’t object at that time but in subsequent days and weeks grew more uncomfortable when Tate allegedly leered at her, nudged her and made comments about her clothes.
At one point, she alleged, Tate said to her, “if she wanted to move up in the world, give him a call.”
Tate chairs the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee.
When contacted via phone and text message, Tate did not address any specific allegations. He turned to a Republican spokesman, who reached out to us, seeking additional information about the allegations. We gave that spokesman more details and Tate contacted us via text message, issuing a general statement.
“I am unaware of any instance in which I made an individual feel uncomfortable,” the statement reads.
“I have been at the Capitol for three years and during this time no person has expressed to me or to any of my colleagues that I caused discomfort or created distress,” Tate added. “I have the utmost respect for the men and women with whom I work on a daily basis. The honor of serving our state is not something I take lightly.”
The intern said she did not know how to address the matter with Tate but would back away from him when he came close to her. She also tried to avoid him.
She did confide in another intern, Ellie D’Anna, who said she witnessed a moment between the two.
“He was creepy toward her,” D’Anna said of Tate. “He was just hinting at stuff. He said something about her outfit.”
The intern told her supervisor, Sophia Laster, a legislative aide to Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, about Tate.
“I immediately said that’s extremely concerning,” Laster said. “I said will you tell Rep. Michaelson Jenet?”
But the intern did not go to Michaelson Jenet with the allegations until her last day at the Capitol, when she quit. She said she feared the complaint process because her name could become public. Michaelson Jenet said she urged her to file a formal complaint to no avail.
“She no longer felt safe,” said Michaelson Jenet.
But she said she didn’t go to Tate or other colleagues about the intern’s story.
“I believe you respect the wishes of the injured party and she did not want to file,” Michaelson Jenet said. “I had to honor that. It was also not mine to tell.”
Complaints about lawmakers ultimately go through Senate and House leadership.
Stewart Manela is a top labor and employment attorney at the law firm Arent Fox in Washington D.C. He is also the former chair of the American Bar Association Labor and Employment Section. He said that speaking up, especially in the context of a state legislature where victims report to those in power, is too much to expect in some cases.
“A young woman could say, ‘Gee I’m offended,’ and probably nine out of ten 18-year-old women would not feel comfortable doing that,” he said.”
Lobbyist Megan Dubray has worked in the Capitol for seven years. She was surprised to hear of an allegation against Tate. She said she has worked extensively with him on a wide range of issues.
“We have long hours, and stressful up and downs,” said Dubray. “Never once has Sen. Tate made any inappropriate comments towards me or others in my company. He’s never made me feel uncomfortable in the slightest.”’
We received the following statement from Senate President Kevin Grantham at the time this story was published:
We take every allegation of harassment or misconduct seriously. We ask those who feel they have been victims of harassment or inappropriate behavior at the General Assembly to file an official complaint, in confidence that their anonymity and rights will be protected. Going forward, Senate Republican leaders cannot and will not be responding to unsubstantiated or anonymous allegations against members appearing in the press, which the existing complaint process is designed to handle. This process exists to protect confidentiality, respect the rights of both accuser and accused, rigorously review the facts, give a fair hearing to all sides, and impose penalties proportionate to any confirmed offense. To handle these matters in any other way contradicts the basic tenants of fairness, justice, and due process for which America is known.
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