Under fire for his handling of misconduct allegations at the Capitol and in his political organization, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan on Tuesday released a partial list of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints he says his office has investigated during the past five years.
The memo offers general descriptions of nine cases, including a female staff member who reported that a male staffer threatened to ruin her career when she ended their personal relationship; a male staffer accusing another male staffer of creating a hostile work environment and physically touching him; and a staff member who accused a legislator of harassment, retaliation and a failure to pay wages.
The list, however, does not include complaints filed in the veteran speaker’s political operation. The memo also does not disclose a variety of potential complaints that fall under wide exemptions imposed by Madigan’s government office, including any allegations made by a lawmaker against another lawmaker, those lodged by a lobbyist against a lawmaker, and what was classified as “unresolved complaints.”
Madigan characterized the release of the list as a “new and unprecedented action” following a flood of questions about “unwanted, unwarranted activities” reported to his office.
He also said the summary of cases demonstrates that his office followed its established procedures in responding to complaints, which have surfaced in state government as the #MeToo movement has put a focus on gender discrimination and inequality across various professions.
“What it says is that our office has been available for those that wish to file complaints, and that we’ve done it according to protocol and according to statute,” Madigan said. “Our commitment to everybody is that we are going to continue to do things in a proper manner, and we are going to continue to work with all interested parties to move toward a change in culture around the Capitol building and in the politics of Illinois.”
Madigan dismissed questions about whether the cases suggest a culture of inappropriate behavior has been allowed to flourish under his leadership.
“There’s no culture with me, and if you read through how these were processed you can see that at the leadership level we don’t tolerate inappropriate behavior, we just don’t tolerate it,” Madigan said.
For Madigan, releasing the list allows him to say he’s trying to be more transparent about the extent of misconduct allegations while also helping with member management of the 67 House Democrats he leads, 34 of whom are women.
Before speaking to reporters, Madigan distributed the memo during a heated closed-door meeting with House Democrats. Lawmakers peppered Madigan with questions after two of his top campaign aides were dismissed in recent weeks following allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.
“You’ve got a bunch of elected officials who were saying, ‘What’s going on? What’s going on? What’s going on?’ ” Democratic Rep. Robert Martwick of Chicago said afterward.
In some instances, the vague, one-sheet summary of cases left lawmakers with more questions than answers.
“We don’t quite know what some of the conduct is for these anonymous ones, so you can’t make a decision on if it was handled appropriately or not, but I think the public has a right to know what’s going on with their government,” said Democratic Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood, a frequent Madigan critic who is running for attorney general.
“This is like a pressure cooker. They are just trying to keep the lid on it,” said Drury, who has called on Madigan to resign as speaker. “Eventually it’s going to come off, and it’s not going to be good for the Democratic Party, it’s not going to be good for the public, and in the end, it’s not going to be good for Speaker Madigan.”
Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat who has requested an outside investigation into complaints about Madigan’s statehouse and political organization, called the speaker’s Tuesday disclosure a “good start.” But she said more needs to be done to ensure people feel safe enough to come forward. Cassidy noted that the Capitol is not a traditional work environment, and it’s often unclear how to report allegations and who would be responsible for looking into them.
“I just think back on my experience when I was first down here, it didn’t occur to me that there was anyone I could turn to,” Cassidy said. “So for those nine on that sheet, that is no doubt just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that doesn’t get reported.”
Among the other cases included in the memo was the complaint of a female staff member who reported that a male staffer “had been sexually inappropriate with her and has used his position to intimidate and manipulate her”; a female staffer who reported to her supervisor that a lawmaker made an inappropriate sexual comment; and a legislator who apologized and self-reported to an ethics officer after making an inappropriate sexual comment to a female staffer.
Madigan and his attorney, Heather Wier Vaught, indicated that in most cases, the complaints were resolved internally.
In the case of the failure to pay wages, “the matter was resolved through counsel,” the memo states. In the case of the male staffers, the complainant “was moved to a new office at his request,” according to the memo. And the female staffer who said she was threatened asked to remain confidential, so the House Democratic “ethics officer began monitoring the (accused) staffer.”
The lawmaker accused of making an inappropriate sexual comment was counseled by the ethics officer, and the woman’s supervisor “intervened any time the member contacted staffer.”
Just one case resulted in someone being fired, though it wasn’t Madigan who did the firing. The case involved two lawmakers reporting that a female staff member had received unwanted advances and inappropriate comments from a lobbyist. The matter was reported to the lobbyist’s employer, and he was removed from his position, according to the memo.
Wier Vaught declined to provide additional information beyond the brief case summaries, saying doing so could compromise requests by those filing complaints to remain anonymous. She indicated the first complaint dated to 2013.
“If I were to tell you time by time when these happened, it would be much easier to identify these individuals, and because these individuals have asked to remain confidential, I don’t think that information is relevant,” she said.
Madigan’s disclosure came amid one of the most extraordinary two-week periods of his record 33 years as speaker, a stretch in which he parted ways with two key political operatives and members of the party he helms called for his resignation.
On Feb. 12, Madigan announced he had dismissed longtime political worker Kevin Quinn, the brother of 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn. The announcement came about three months after campaign worker Alaina Hampton sent the speaker a letter accusing Kevin Quinn of sexual harassment. Hampton shared text messages with the Tribune that detailed a relentless series of romantic entreaties from Kevin Quinn, whom she said was her supervisor.
The next day, leading Democratic and Republican governor candidates called for a thorough investigation of Hampton’s complaint. Some politicians went as far as to suggest Madigan resign as speaker and Illinois Democratic Party chairman. Madigan held a Capitol news conference in which he mostly remained silent while Wier Vaught fielded reporters’ questions about the burgeoning scandal.
On Feb. 16, Madigan sent a letter to House Democrats that said he shoulders “responsibility” for failing to do more to ensure equality in the statehouse and on the campaign trail. Madigan also revealed that he has retained an attorney to receive and investigate harassment allegations on his political staff as well as “provide independent review of allegations, conduct investigations, and provide recommendations for updating policies and procedures, including clear rules for conduct and penalties for violations.”
Three days later, Shaw Decremer — a lobbyist, former Madigan staffer and top campaign worker — departed over what one lawmaker labeled abusive actions during House Democratic races.
That prompted renewed calls for Madigan to step down as Democratic Party chairman, as rank-and-file lawmakers argued Madigan-led efforts to look into harassment complaints were not appropriate. Questions surfaced about the outside attorney’s political ties to Madigan’s organization, and by the end of last week Wier Vaught acknowledged she regrets she didn’t react faster after Hampton complained.
On Tuesday, Madigan repeated that he would not step down, saying those who want him to resign are pushing an agenda put forth by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has argued the speaker is the source of many of the state’s problems.
“I’m not resigning. I’m moving forward,” Madigan said. “I am working with this particular issue, and we are going to work our way through it.”
Madigan also noted that he recently named Comptroller Susana Mendoza, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Moline and state Rep. Carol Ammons of Urbana to examine the future of women in the Democratic Party. The group has requested independence.
Meanwhile, Madigan has also called on his fellow legislative leaders and statewide officeholders to disclose similar information about complaints their offices have received, an idea that was met with a cool reception in some quarters of the Capitol.
“Our personnel policies spell out that any complaints are to be treated in as confidential a manner as possible in order to protect the privacy and rights of the victim,” John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, said in a statement. “Our priority is a professional work environment in which anyone who feels victimized can come forward with confidence knowing that their rights and privacy will be protected.”
Hours after Madigan released the abridged list of complaints, a group of Chicago Democrats opened discussions with campaign workers and a union group over how to prevent abuse and harassment in Illinois’ raucous political environment. About a half-dozen staff members and three lawmakers attended the meeting, which focused primarily on pay, long hours, troubles with temporary housing and sexual harassment.
Emma LaBounty, a member of the executive council of the fledgling Campaign Workers Guild, said the union is getting started by organizing individual campaigns throughout the country. So far, she said, the union has reached contracts with only a handful of campaigns but is working with dozens to organize at the local, state and federal levels.
The goal of the meeting in Springfield was to talk to people about their experiences, particularly in the wake of Hampton’s revelations and Madigan’s decision to cut two longtime loyalists from his organization, LaBounty said.
Hampton, a former foot soldier in Madigan’s political organization, attended the gathering and plans to meet with a legislative women’s caucus Wednesday.
She said she skimmed Madigan’s memo and listened to some of his comments to reporters but declined to comment specifically on the contents until she has read it more thoroughly.
“Now more than ever, campaign workers need protection and the kind of safe work environment I didn’t have access to,” Hampton told the Tribune late Tuesday. “The guild is a step in the right direction.”
Chicago Tribune’s Stacy St. Clair contributed. St. Clair and Long reported from Chicago.