Report finds sexual harassment common — and commonly unreported — in Colorado state capitol

Colorado State Capitol. Photo by John Herrick

An overwhelming majority of workers at the state Capital who have reported harassment are not satisfied with the outcome, according to an independent review of the statehouse’s workplace harassment policy.

In an April 2 report presented to lawmakers on Thursday, the Investigations Law Group, a consulting firm based in Denver, recommended the legislature change its workplace harassment policy to hold workers accountable for harassment. 

“The current policy and practices are not effective in creating an environment where harassment is not tolerated, where people feel comfortable reporting harassment, or where harassment is appropriately dealt with, when it is reported,” the report states.

The review also found more than a quarter of those who work at the state Capitol observe sexual harassment, but only 13 percent report the incidents. And when these incidents are reported, 72 percent say they were not satisfied with the outcome.

“Many people who have experience harassment have not felt comfortable coming forward,” House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat from Denver, told reporters after a briefing on Thursday. “We have to do more to make sure that we are building a culture where people feel comfortable to be able to get help if they need it.”

The state legislature has been grappling with the issue of sexual harassment all year as the national #Me Too movement prompts victims to come forward with their stories. On March 2, embattled Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Steve Lebsock was expelled from the House of Representatives over allegations of sexual harassment. And on Monday, Democrats attempted to remove Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs over allegations of sexual harassment.

The report also found lawmakers are the most common group observed harassing others, the report states, and lobbyists, aides and interns as the most common targets of this harassment. It says these findings suggest that power dynamics play a large role in sexual harassment in the Capitol.

The independent review was commissioned by lawmakers at the start of the session to change a process that lawmakers have repeatedly said is not perfect. In the case of Baumgardner, Senate President Kevin Grantham dismissed an investigation in February — an investigation that found allegations against Baumgardner to be credible — as biased and inaccurate, raising questions about due process for the accused and justice for victims.

“We’ve always acknowledged that things need to be addressed and the process needs to be addressed,” Grantham told reporters after the briefing. 

But lawmakers are not committing to changing the current policy this session. They want to get it right, they say.

The 235-page report details 25 recommendations for how the state’s workplace harassment should change. This includes using the preponderance of evidence as a standard for proving whether allegations are credible, depoliticizing the process by having complaints go through an independent panel instead of lawmakers, and making findings against legislators public.

The report, commissioned by lawmakers, is based on an online survey taken in late February by 528 lawmakers, lobbyists, interns, aides, and others. It also includes data from a public online survey in early March where 36 people participated as well as 80 interviews with workers at the Capitol, including current and former lawmakers, reporters and volunteers.

Photo of Colorado state capitol building by John Herrick