Records show $75,000 was paid in 2015 to a former lawmaker’s aide who alleged sexual harassment against her boss and wrongful termination from her job.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the woman has been identified as Jana Harris, a former aide to former Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee. This incident is just one of four instances of sexual harassment which have been filed in the state Legislature within the last decade.
Policy within the Legislature, however, keeps information on these instances private. The incident involving Coggs and Harris has been made public because a settlement agreement was reached through the Equal Rights Division within the Dept. of Workforce Development, which is public.
Milwaukee Rep. accused of kissing women without consent stripped of committee positionsFollowing allegations of sexual misconduct in 2011 and 2015, Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, was removed from his committee assignments and Read…
Harris first filed a complaint against Coggs in 2009. Two years later, Harris filed a wrongful termination complaint against Coggs after she was fired from from her job in Coggs’s office.
In 2015, administrative law judge Deborah Little Cohn found there to be probable cause that Coggs sexually harassed Harris and discriminated against her.
In the court proceedings, it was found that Coggs believed Harris’s appearance and attire to be distracting to employees and visitors to his office. Little Cohn also found that he made sexually suggestive jokes regarding the relationship of Harris and another employee and was often critical of Harris’s appearance.
In 2009, Harris reported her concerns to the Legislature’s human resources office. After that time, Harris said Coggs excluded her from staff meetings, something which made Harris fear for her job.
Little Cohn found that Coggs allowed and actively contributed to the sexual harassment occurring in his office, and said there was probable cause to believe the state Legislature permitted sexual harassment.
Women in UW Department of Urban Planning grapple with ‘legacy of sexism,’ sexual harassmentAmid the continuing national conversation regarding sexual harassment, sexism and gender prejudice in the workplace, the University of Wisconsin reaffirmed Read…
Harris eventually did lose her job with Coggs’s office. In 2011, she filed a wrongful termination suit against Coggs, believing her reporting of sexual harassment played a major role in her firing.
Coggs, who now serves as city treasurer in Milwaukee, denied all claims and insisted on his innocence. He said Harris was fired because her position was eliminated due to staff reductions after the Democratic Party lost control of the Legislature in 2010.
In 2015, the allegations were put to rest in an out-of-court settlement, in which Harris received $75,000 of taxpayer money.
Harris’s case highlights what experts have identified as an issue in how the Legislature handles reports of sexual assault and harassment. In Wisconsin, staffers work for individual lawmakers and serve in their positions at that Legislator’s will, a setup which can deter victims from reporting instances of sexual assault or harassment.
Additionally, the state Legislature’s leadership announced recently it would not change policy regarding transparency in reporting instances of sexual assault. This announcement came in the wake of an intense and growing national conversation over the issue and just before Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, was accused of kissing two women without their consent.