The Potluck

Senate DFL formally calls for outside investigation in handling of sexual harassment claim

By: - August 3, 2021 7:41 pm

Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, speaks to reporters on May 17, 2021. Photo by A.J. Olmscheid/Minnesota Senate 11

Senate DFL leaders on Tuesday formally called for an outside investigation into the handling of a sexual harassment claim made by a former Senate staffer who accused her supervisor’s brother of harassing her for months. 

The coming investigation is the latest fallout from Reformer reporting about Cynthia Callais, the former staffer who now works for the teachers union. Callais said that over many months and across two workplaces, including the Senate DFL campaign, House staffer and DFL operative Clay Schwartzwalter — the brother of her then-boss state Sen. Jason Isaacson — made repeated unwanted advances, including twice kissing her. Schwartzwalter was also at one point the campaign manager for Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury.   

“Whenever an employee, former or current, believes that the policies were not implemented correctly in their matter, it is our duty to validate their voice and take their concerns seriously,” said an Aug. 3 letter from Senate DFL leadership to Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman. “Since one of the issues that has been raised involves the role of Senate HR itself, we do not think that an internal evaluation will be sufficient to address the concerns raised and to instill confidence in the results of the investigation.”

The letter came from Kent, Assistant Leaders Sen. Nick Frentz of North Mankato and Sen. Foung Hawj of St. Paul. It also seeks a review of the current anti-sexual harassment policy.  

Callais reported the claims to the Minnesota DFL Party in September 2020 when Schwartzwalter served as campaign manager for Kent. Kent removed him from her campaign just days later.

Kent last week said she forced him to resign to quickly remove him rather than see a lengthy investigation process. Schwartzwalter returned to work at the Minnesota House, where he had been working before taking leave to work as Kent’s campaign manager. 

Schwartzwalter denies that he sexually harassed Callais, calling her claims “gross mischaracterizations.” He also faced a separate harassment complaint in September 2020 in the Minnesota House, which resulted in an investigation and his eventual dismissal in early January 2021.  

Callais said she often worried that negative interactions with Schwartzwalter would affect her relationship with her boss, Isaacson. 

Kent’s colleagues have been critical of the way the incident was handled. State Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, resigned from her post as assistant minority leader in protest of the handling of Callais’s claim. Senate and House DFL staffers signed letters in support of Callais, also critical of the Senate’s handling of the claims.

 

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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