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House Speaker Madigan takes responsibility for “not doing enough” to address culture of workplace harassment in his office

State Government

By Rich Peters | Sep 1, 2019

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan

Editor's Note: After more than a year of outside investigation, a report has been released surrounding claims of sexual harassment and overall workplace cultural issues within the Illinois House of Representatives, Office of the Speaker. This is Part 7 of a report on the 202-page document.

After more than a year of investigation, Maggie Hickey and her Schiff Hardin LLP team concluded their report by identifying the good, the bad and the ugly within the Speaker’s House. The report broke their findings down into three reasonings:

●Workplace Harassment Remains a Persistent Problem: “Almost fully one third of the approximately 90,000 charges received by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment.”

● Workplace Harassment Too Often Goes Unreported: “Roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct. Workers who experience harassment fail to report the harassing behavior or to file a complaint because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.”

● Fears of Disbelief, Inaction, and Professional and Social Retaliation Have Been Well Founded: “Studies found that 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation ... [and] that sexual harassment reporting is often followed by organizational indifference or trivialization of the harassment complaint as well as hostility and reprisals against the victim."

Hickey and her team conducted interviews with more than 100 members of the Capitol workplace, including more than 80 current or former members of the Speaker’s Office. Those members included workers on the Speaker’s Staff and in the Clerk’s Office as well as more than 12 representatives from the Democratic Caucus. They also reviewed thousands of pages of documents – including memoranda, personnel files, emails, social-media websites, the Speaker’s Office’s policies and procedures, and relevant Illinois law.

While the report several times highlights the positive feedback received from many workers that were interviewed, the one common theme among all of the negative feedback was the overwhelming feeling of being expendable. The fear of being cast out played a major role in workers not coming forward with allegations or standing behind the accusers.

But despite the overwhelming evidence of fear tactics, the report found very little evidence to legally take action based on the number accusations. However, Hickey and her team also found no conclusive evidence of false accusations and several times acknowledged that there are changes that need to be made within the office – starting at the very top with Speaker Michael Madigan.

Madigan, in addition to commissioning the report from Hickey and her team, has acknowledged that there are a number of steps that need to be taken in order to address sexual harassment and workplace culture.

“The report reaffirms much of what we have heard in the past, and I take responsibility for not doing enough to prevent these issues in my office,” Madigan said in a letter, as noted in the report. “For nearly two years I have actively worked with members and staff to change the culture of the Capitol, but I recognize there is still more to do.”

“The bottom line is that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated within the Capitol,” Madigan said.

As sexual harassment allegations and workplace culture misconduct continue to strike political offices in Springfield and across the nation, Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed an anti-harassment legislation that passed without opposition from either chamber. The new law prohibits employers from requiring workers to sign nondisclosure and arbitration agreements related to harassment or discrimination.

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Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan

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