The Potluck

Dems allege Minnesota Senate harassment policy could deter victims from reporting

By: - September 14, 2022 10:04 am

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R- Winona, speaks on the Senate floor on March 10, 2022. Photo by Catherine J. Davis/Minnesota Senate Media Services

The Minnesota Senate passed changes to its harassment and discrimination policy Tuesday, dismissing a DFL attempt to prevent victims from having to attend a hearing with the accused. 

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee throughout the summer passed changes to its harassment policy after a Senate staffer told the Reformer in 2021 that she was harassed by another legislative aide. The committee’s work comes after the Senate conducted its own independent investigation.

Much of the nine policy amendments passed Tuesday were mere language clarifications and were adopted on top of changes the committee already made months prior. The hearing policy — which applies to Senate staff members and not lawmakers themselves — states that both the person accused of harassment and the person making the allegations have the right to request a hearing to resolve a complaint.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday attempted to amend the policy to remove requests for hearings. They said the right to a hearing could deter people from reporting harassment or discrimination because they may not want to face a daunting hearing procedure. Hearings are private unless the parties agree otherwise.

“The prospect of a formal hearing would be intimidating and present a significant barrier to those who may otherwise report workplace concerns,” said Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen, DFL-Edina. “Hearings are also costly, time consuming and an adversarial process tending to create more pain than healing.”

The policy states a retired judge will preside over the hearing at the Senate’s expense. The Senate will not pay for either person’s lawyers.

The Minnesota House of Representatives makes no mention of the right to a hearing in its anti-discrimination and harassment policy.

Senate Democrats argued that investigations into allegations are more effective and are a better method to find facts. Republicans have pushed back against this, arguing that the person accused of harassment has the right to due process.

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller praised the adopted policy clarifications. 

“While there are some areas where we are not in total agreement, I believe that the … current nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy and process sets expectations for our staff and members to work in a safe and respectful manner and provides us with a better understanding and a clear direction for handling and investigating complaints that may come forward,” said the Winona Republican, who also chairs the Rules Committee.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.