ST. PAUL — Minnesota's top Senate Democrat this week called for an independent investigation into an incident of sexual harassment of a former caucus staff member and fellow Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders said they'll pursue broader reviews of state reporting policies.
Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, in a letter late Tuesday, Aug. 3, asked Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman to launch an independent investigation into a sexual harassment complaint against a former Senate DFL caucus staff member. And Kent also requested a review of the Senate's nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.
The review and investigation come after a former-Senate DFL staffer said she was sexually harassed by Clay Schwartzwalter, the half-brother of state Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview. In a story broken by the Minnesota Reformer, the staffer alleged the harassment occurred between November 2019 and August 2020.
Per the Reformer, the staffer and Schwartzwalter worked for the Senate and House DFL caucuses respectively, then Senate DFL campaigns. When the staffer reported her concerns to the DFL Party in September 2020, Schwartzwalter was given the option to resign or be fired from the campaign, and he resigned. But the staffer said she felt he continued to benefit from his familial and political ties, and that her allegations were not taken seriously by those in power.
In the week since the Reformer's story broke, legislative staffers have signed letters in support of the accuser and decrying the Senate's handling of the matter.
"Given the seriousness of these concerns, the importance of providing a safe, respectful and supportive workplace for all Senate employees, and so that we all have confidence in the Senate's ability to effectively implement our standards," Kent wrote, "we believe that there should be an independent, outside review of the current Minnesota Senate Nondiscrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy and the manner in which it was implemented in the matter that was highlighted in the recent article."
She also said the DFL Caucus was reviewing how the complaint of harassment was handled and "improving our own response to these types of concerns." A spokeswoman for Kent on Wednesday said she wasn't able to comment on the situation beyond what was written in the letter.
State Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, on Wednesday said the independent probe was a step in the right direction. Franzen resigned her leadership position with the Senate DFL Caucus following reports of the alleged harassment. She said the caucus could've taken swifter action to review the allegations and launch an investigation.
Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday told Forum News Service that he was also glad to see the call for an independent investigation and following the reports, his office had launched a review of the state's mechanisms for reporting discrimination and harassment.
"I believe when they tell and if this was the case, we need to find out why it wasn't investigated," Walz said. "I asked the state, I asked the entire enterprise, starting with the governor’s office on out to make sure every single employee can feel empowered and understand where they can go to make a complaint outside their chain of command.”
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