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Another Schwertner update

The investigation is happening.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The University of Texas on Monday acknowledged it has received a complaint about state Sen. Charles Schwertner from a student, and that it has collected evidence as part of an investigation into him, marking the first official acknowledgement of the school’s inquiry into whether Schwertner sent a sexually explicit photo and message to a graduate student he met this summer.

The American-Statesman reported two weeks ago that the school was investigating the allegation against the Georgetown Republican, and that it was considering banning him from campus if the allegation was proven true. The newspaper cited three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to discuss the situation.

A university spokesman at the time declined to answer questions about the investigation, saying UT does not confirm or comment on ongoing investigations. Monday’s confirmation came in a letter from the university to the Texas attorney general’s office that seeks permission to withhold records that the Statesman requested two weeks ago.

[…]

Schwertner, who could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon, has maintained that he did not send the message and image, though he hasn’t provided an explanation for what happened. He has not denied that the image and the message were sent to the student, nor has he explained how they could have been sent if not by him.

His lawyers’ statement last week included results from a polygraph test that appeared to show Schwertner was not lying when he said he did not send the message and image. However, the test left several significant questions unasked, including whether the image sent to the student was of Schwertner, and whether Schwertner knew who sent the image and message.

See here for the previous update. Schwertner’s attorneys had said there was an investigation, now we know that UT has confirmed that, and we know some more of the background. AG Ken Paxton will issue an opinion about what information UT is required to turn over to the Statesman about it all – my guess is he’ll say that most of what UT has is protected – and at some point we’ll know the results of this investigation. I would guess that everyone involved would rather have this wrapped up sooner and not later.

As for what Schwertner has and has not denied: Like I said before, it’s a pretty straightforward matter to determine whether or not a message was sent from a given phone. Even if stuff had been deleted, service provider records and basic forensic tools would provide the answer. The bigger question is, if Schwertner himself did not send the messages, who did? One presumes only so many people have access to his phone. Yes, his phone could have been hacked, but that’s harder to do than you might think, and anyone who wanted to break into his phone would probably want to steal information from it, not use it as a front for forwarding sexy pictures. Be that as it may, as before a competent IT security professional would be able to suss that out. I don’t want to speculate ahead of the evidence so I’ll leave it here. Let’s just say I’m eagerly awaiting the outcome of this investigation. Also, too, Meg Walsh.

Investigating Schwertner

Another update.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

Lawyers for state Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican alleged to have sent lewd messages to a graduate student, said Wednesday that the University of Texas at Austin has hired former federal prosecutor Johnny Sutton to help investigate the accusation.

[…]

Schwertner is “devastated that the graduate student involved received any texts of this nature from anyone,” the lawyers, Perry Minton and David Minton, said Wednesday in a press release that also said the senator had taken a polygraph test and that the results backed his denial.

By hiring Sutton “to help resolve this matter, the University has engaged one of the most experienced and fair-minded investigators around,” the lawyers said. Sutton was recently contracted by UT to conduct an internal review, after a former employee of the law school was arrested amid a fraud investigation involving potentially millions of dollars.

See here, here, and here for the background. It would be nice to have some idea how long this investigation may take, but at least everyone agrees that the investigator is aces. One hopes this means he’ll actually talk to the woman who made the complaint.

In the meantime, Schwertner has a complaint of his own.

Schwertner’s attorneys on Wednesday also called on the University of Texas to issue a statement exonerating Schwertner.

“The leak by three senior University officials is in clear violation of state and federal laws,” the Mintons said. “Additionally, these officials deliberately set out to leak these false allegations to the press in order to damage Senator Schwertner in the middle of a political campaign. There is no other plausible explanation.”

The attorneys said the administrators should be fired for compromising the integrity of their investigation.

Actually, another plausible explanation I can think of is that someone with knowledge of the investigation had leaked about its existence because they thought it was a sham that was on its way to becoming a coverup. They got the word out about it while they still could to prevent that outcome. I have no idea if this is remotely true – it is certainly possible that there was a political motive at play here, or maybe there was some other reason for what happened – but I can spin a hypothetical as well as Schwertner’s attorneys.

And so, the final word goes to Meg Walsh, from the inbox:

The investigation of Senator Schwertner’s inappropriate text must be fully investigated without threats or retaliation from the Dan Patrick, State Senators or any other person.

I call upon the State Senate to reverse its decision to take a “sit and wait approach” and also launch a full investigation into this matter.

Women must be believed and heard when these incidents occur, no matter if the offender is a boss, friend, U.S. Supreme Court nominee or Texas State Senator.

From my years of experience helping survivors of sexual assault, law enforcement and the University of Texas are doing the right thing to in keeping the survivor anonymous.

Speaking out about harassment is a courageous and vulnerable act in seeking justice. Women must be believed and supported, plain and simple.

“If these allegations are true, Senator Schwertner is unfit to serve in office.”

We’ve seen everything Meg Walsh is talking about right there in Washington. Let’s not have a repeat of it in Austin.

What should the Senate do about Schwertner?

There are two basic choices.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The circumstances surrounding the latest allegation are thorny: They involve a Republican state senator, Charles Schwertner, who is accused of texting a sexually explicit image and message to a graduate student. Reportedly, Schwertner and the student met at an event on the University of Texas at Austin campus — and not around the Capitol, as was the case in previous allegations against other senators — but the lewd messages that Schwertner allegedly sent came after the student indicated she was interested in working at the Capitol.

In the week since the Austin American-Statesman first reported that UT-Austin was investigating the allegation, Senate leaders have indicated they won’t touch the allegation, which Schwertner has firmly denied, until that inquiry wraps up.

“The Texas Senate is awaiting the conclusion of the investigation and expects a full report on this matter,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who presides over the chamber, said in a statement.

It’s a wait-and-see approach that comes about four months after the Senate took steps to bolster the processes in place for addressing claims of sexual misconduct. Despite those changes and a stated commitment to zero tolerance when it comes to sexual misconduct, the allegation against Schwertner has further highlighted the complexity — and seeming hesitance by lawmakers to act — that still looms over the Capitol when it comes to responding to such wrongdoing by elected officials, who ultimately answer to voters back home.

“Many employers are concerned about their employees’ behavior outside the workplace,” said Malinda Gaul, president of the Texas Employment Lawyers Association. “But he’s not an employee. So basically you wonder why the Legislature wouldn’t feel obligated to look at it since we’re talking about a senator and constituent.”

[…]

The Senate’s anti-sexual harassment policy doesn’t appear to explicitly cover this situation — between a student and a senator at an on-campus event. Though the policy indicates that the Senate’s sexual harassment prohibition may apply outside the workplace, it is largely focused on interactions between senators, staffers and individuals, such as lobbyists and reporters, whose work requires them to regularly visit the Capitol.

And Senate leaders who have said they’ll await the results of the UT-Austin investigation have offered virtually no insight into what the Senate would do with the results of that investigation. Neither Patrick nor state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the Brenham Republican who oversaw the revisions to the chamber’s policy, responded to questions about what the Senate’s next steps could be or whether the chamber could initiate its own investigation into wrongdoing related to sexual harassment without a formal complaint.

Nothing precludes an investigation or inquiry of a senator without a formal complaint, but there appears to be little policy guidance for lawmakers at the Capitol on the “exact response here,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who co-chairs a House workgroup that is working on recommendations to address sexual harassment at the Capitol beyond the revisions members made to the chamber’s policy in December.

“That being said, we’ve already had three senators now mentioned by the media as having engaged in inappropriate behavior, and as far as I know no kind of inquiry has been done for any of them,” Howard said. “I would suggest it’s time that we start taking action.”

See here and here for the background. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the Senate to await the outcome of the UT investigation. The question is what will they do with it, if it shows clear evidence of wrongdoing on Sen. Schwertner’s part? I doubt they know, either, and that’s the problem. And while there’s nothing wrong with waiting for the UT report and using it as a base for whatever followup action may be needed (if any), there’s also no reason why the Senate couldn’t do its own asking around, as there will likely be questions it will be interested in that may or may not be addressed in the UT report. Basically, is there a plan, other than hope it all turns out to be nothing? It’s not clear to me that there is, and that needs to be fixed, if not for this time then for the inevitable next time. And in the meantime, get to know Meg Walsh.

Schwertner update

He has amended his statement.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

In the face of a sexual harassment allegation, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, has hired two Austin attorneys and denied sending “any inappropriate texts as alleged” — “Period.” — in a new statement Wednesday from the attorneys.

[…]

Schwertner has hired attorneys Perry and David Minton to represent him, the Statesman reported. The attorneys said they have been in touch with UT-Austin to “resolve this matter.” The law firm did not immediately return a request for comment from the Tribune.

“The Senator is devastated over these allegations and is concerned for the unnamed victim,” the lawyers said in a statement to the Statesman. “Our statements regarding the Senator will be proven in the days and weeks to come. Until then, Senator Schwertner deserves the courtesy of holding judgment until he is afforded the opportunity for a fair process to occur.”

See here for the background, and here for that Statesman story, which has a lot more detail. That new statement implicitly acknowledges that Schwertner did text the grad student in question, though he continues to deny that there was anything inappropriate in them. As I said, the existence of texts means the existence of objective evidence. One way or the other, we should be able to know the truth of the matter. For now, Schwertner’s colleagues, as well as Dan Patrick, are mostly taking a wait-and-see attitude. Like I said, one way or the other we should know something real eventually.

In the meantime:

Meg Walsh

Schwertner, who has represented the district since 2013 and is the chairman of the powerful Health and Human Services Committee, is facing two female challengers in the upcoming midterm elections: Democrat Meg Walsh and Libertarian Amy Lyons.

“If these allegations are true, Sen. Schwertner is unfit to serve in office,” Walsh said in a statement released Wednesday. “These serious allegations deserve a full and thorough investigation.”

Walsh also noted in the statement that she has dealt with workplace harassment before and will “never stop fighting so that women and every single person is treated with the respect they deserve.”

In an interview with The Texas Tribune Wednesday afternoon, Walsh reiterated her assertion that Schwertner is unfit to serve and said that if the allegation is true, it is a “serious abuse of power.”

[…]

While Schwertner is unlikely to lose his seat in November, a soft showing for his re-election could potentially endanger other Republicans on the ballot whose districts overlap with Schwertner’s.

Bill Fairbrother, chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party, said state Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, is in a “purplish and competitive district” that overlaps with Schwertner’s. Clinton defeated Trump in that district by less than 3 percentage points in 2016, according to data from the Texas Legislative Council.

A the story notes, SD05 is pretty solidly Republican; Trump carried it by 20 points in 2016. The truth would have to be really bad, and probably need to come out quickly, to have a significant effect. There could be a trickle-down effect, however, with the likes of Rep. Dale as casualties. Which would be fine by me, of course. Maybe now would be a good time for Annie’s List to jump in and lend a hand to Walsh. They don’t normally play in a race like this, but if now isn’t time for them to get involved, when would it be?

UT investigating sexual misconduct case against State Sen. Schwertner

Noted for the record.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The University of Texas is investigating an allegation that state Sen. Charles Schwertner sent a sexually explicit image and text message to a graduate student he met at an on-campus event this summer, three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation told the American-Statesman.
If the allegation is deemed true, the university would consider banning Schwertner from campus, two of the officials said. The third official said the university is also considering hiring outside legal counsel to investigate further.

Through a spokesman, Schwertner on Tuesday said he “categorically denies any knowledge of the accusations” and plans to cooperate with UT’s investigation.

The student met Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican and a UT alumnus, at an on-campus event to which Schwertner was invited and told him she was interested in working at the Legislature, according to two of the officials. After the event, they exchanged messages on the networking site LinkedIn before moving to text messaging, the two officials said.

During an otherwise professional exchange on networking and career advice, Schwertner abruptly wrote, “I just really want to f—- you,” and sent her an image that appeared to be a picture of his genitals that was taken in the shower, according to a UT official who has seen the exchange and the photo. The image does not include his face, the official said. The Statesman has not seen the photo.

The student told Schwertner that she thought he had acted inappropriately, the officials said, and Schwertner did not respond. The student then reported Schwertner’s behavior to the school, prompting the investigation, they said.

All UT officials interviewed by the Statesman declined to reveal the identity of the student out of respect for her privacy and to honor the promise of confidentiality that the university made to her when she reported the incident. Student privacy laws also prohibit the university from disclosing the student’s name.

The officials, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, said that the investigation into Schwertner has not found any potentially criminal misconduct.

That’s all we know at this point. I suppose since the crux of this allegation involves text messages, there should be evidence one way or another, to support or refute it. We’ll see what UT finds out, including what if any action the Senate will take in the event the charges are corroborated. I’ll reserve judgment for now, but as someone who called for Sens. Miles and Uresti to step down after the stories about their alleged harassment were published, I’m not likely to be very sympathetic if these charges stick. Oh, and if you’re wondering, Sen. Schwertner is on the ballot in November. His opponent is Meg Walsh. Feel free to get to know her a little better. The Trib has more.

Another Lopez brother gets banned from taekwondo

Steven Lopez this time.

Two-time Olympic taekwondo gold medalist Steven Lopez has been banned permanently from competition by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, based on the results of the agency’s investigation into Lopez’s sexual relationship with an underage female in 2000.

The relationship, according to a report compiled by SafeSport, involved a 14-year-old neighbor whose family was a friend of the Lopez family, and occurred at a time when the complainant was a taekwondo athlete and Lopez was establishing himself as one of the sport’s dominant figures, eventually winning five world titles along with the two Olympic gold medals.

Investigators said the relationship progressed over a four-year period, beginning when the complainant was 10, from what was described as grooming to sexual contact to oral sex, the latter occurring at a time when the complainant was 14 and Lopez 22.

The sexual relationship, SafeSport concluded, took place “in violation of the SafeSport Code, the criminal laws of the State of Texas and the standards expected of USA Taekwondo members.”

Lopez, who with his older brother and coach, Jean Lopez, has been named as a defendant in a federal court lawsuit filed in Colorado, declined to be interviewed by SafeSport regarding the allegations.

See here and here for some background on Jean Lopez. Steven Lopez had been suspended in May by SafeSport, and both he and his brother, along with SafeSport and USA Taekwondo and the US Olympic Committee, are defendants in a lawsuit over this whole sorry and deeply disturbing mess. All that matters at this point is finding some justice for the victims, and doing everything we can to make sure that this shit never, ever happens again. Deadspin has more.

Texans’ cheer coach quits

Of interest.

Altovise Gary, the longtime director of the Houston Texans cheerleaders squad who was named as a defendant in one of two recent federal court lawsuits filed against the team, has resigned, a team spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Gary resigned on her own accord, citing what team spokeswoman Amy Palcic described as personal reasons. The team had no additional comment on her departure.

[…]

Gary was named as a defendant in a case filed in May by a former cheerleader who accused her of body-shaming and failing to act on complaints that cheerleaders were physically assaulted by fans. She was not named as a defendant in a second suit filed days later by five former cheerleaders against the team.

Both suits were dismissed and the former cheerleaders’ complaints submitted to arbitration, as required by their contracts with the team.

Houston attorney Bruse Loyd, who filed the first lawsuit that included Gary as a defendant, said he would have no comment on Gary’s resignation.

Houston attorney Kimberley Spurlock, who along with noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred filed the second lawsuit, said in a statement: “We believe that our lawsuit and the voices of our brave clients have made an important impact on the Houston Texans. As a result of their courage, there appears to be an important change taking place in the staff.

“However, until there is justice for the cheerleaders by paying them fairly and compensating them by paying them the wages that they are due, we will continue our fight to win them the respect and dignity to which they are entitled and which is long overdue.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t have much to add to this, I will just reiterate my positions that 1) harassment and abuse of any kind should not be tolerated, and 2) it’s a travesty that the multi-billion dollar business that is the NFL refuses to pay its cheerleaders a wage the reflects their worth. Not sure what else there is to say.

Blake Farenthold is still a toad

In case you were wondering.

Blake Farenthold

A former Texas congressman had tried steering a federal contract to the owner of a business who gave him a $160,000-a-year job after the congressman resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, according to a newspaper investigation published Sunday.

Republican Blake Farenthold resigned in April amid bipartisan pressure over revelations that he used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a lawsuit brought by a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment. A month after leaving Congress, Farenthold was hired as the lobbyist for the Calhoun Port Authority on the Texas coast. His hiring was directed by port chairman Randy Boyd, who owns a dredging company called RLB Contracting and was a political donor to Farenthold.

Emails obtained by the Victoria Advocate show that Farenthold’s office arranged a meeting in May 2015 between Boyd and the Army Corps of Engineers about a government project. Federal officials took the meeting but declined working with Boyd’s company, citing ethical and environmental rules, after which Farenthold’s office followed up with the Corps by to see “if there is anything our office can do to be helpful (to the Corps) and Mr. Boyd.”

Boyd donated $5,000 to Farenthold’s campaign a day after the congressman’s office began arranging a meeting for him with the Corps, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Also, too:

Months after he resigned from Congress, former Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) is still blaming the #MeToo movement for the congressional investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed women in his office.

[…]

In an August 1 deposition over the recent lawsuit, a transcript of which was obtained and first reported by HuffPost, Farenthold says he “took a bullet for the team” by resigning from Congress. He blames the #MeToo movement, members of the media whom he calls “f tards,” as well as the House Ethics Committee for not caring about facts.

“I believe the public attention to the Me Too movement created a public environment where it would be much more difficult for the members of the Ethics Committee to separate politics from the facts,” Farenthold said, after being asked about previous comments where he had similarly blamed the movement.

Elsewhere in the deposition, he says that the committee was likely looking for a “scapegoat” and believes the entire investigation was a witch hunt.

He also said “f tards” — whom he defines as “A-S-S-E-S” and people in the media — for the investigation into his harassment of women who worked in his office.

Farenthold said he hasn’t paid the government back the $84,000 he used to settle a private lawsuit because his lawyers told him not to. “I can’t legally repay the government to do that,” he said. “I have been advised by multiple attorneys I cannot do that even if I wanted to.”

When further pressed on why he hadn’t donated a similar sum to a charity that works on sexual harassment issues, as he had previously promised to do, Farenthold again said that his lawyers told him not to. He said he was worried about “legislation pending in Congress” targeting sexual offenders in Congress that could authorize the government to take the money from his retirement plan.

“So your concern was that you might have to pay back the 84,000 twice, once back to the taxpayers and also to a nonprofit?” John Griffin, attorney for the Virginia advocate, asks him.

“Yes, sir,” Farenthold responds.

As HuffPost noted, the legislation Farenthold is referring to hasn’t moved forward in Congress, and neither the bill in the Senate or the House would affect him anyway. Only the House version would allow the government to pull the funds from a lawmaker’s Social Security or retirement plan, and it does not apply to past cases.

I take it back. Calling Blake Farenthold a toad is unfair to toads, who have done nothing to deserve such an insult. The bottom line here is don’t be like Blake Farenthold.

Texans cheerleader lawsuit update

Couple points of interest here.

A former Texans cheerleader who says cheer director Alto Gary derided her as “skinny fat” and applied duct tape to her stomach before a 2017 game added her name Friday to one of two lawsuits filed against the team over payment and workplace issues.

Angelina Rosa, a two-year member of the cheerleading squad who said she also was a dancer for the Chicago Bulls and a member of the Astros’ Shooting Stars group, is the 10th cheerleader to join one of two suits filed against the team in Houston federal court.

Rosa is the sixth former cheerleader to sign on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and Houston attorney Kimberly Spurlock. Four have joined a suit filed by Houston attorney Bruse Loyd seeking class action status.

While descriptions of the duct-taping incident were included in both lawsuits, Friday was the first time that Rosa was identified as the affected cheerleader.

[…]

Both lawsuits accuse the Texans of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime for hours spent on the job, and both allege other workplace violations.

The Texans have denied the allegations and have filed motions seeking their dismissal. If the cases are not dismissed, the Texans want them delayed while allegations are submitted to arbitration before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Since the lawsuits were filed, several former cheerleaders have told local news outlets, including the Chronicle, that they were not subjected to the abuses described by their fellow former cheerleaders.

I had noted before that the Texans had filed for dismissal of one of the lawsuits, and I had wondered about the other one. Now I know. As far as the denial by some other cheerleaders about the allegations made in these lawsuits, that’s of interest and would surely be a key pillar of the defense if this ever makes it to a courtroom, but the presence of some cheerleaders – even many cheerleaders – who say they were not abused or harassed does not have any bearing on the testimony of those who say they were. One can be both credibly accused of bad behavior, and also credibly defended by others who say “that never happened to me”. The defense against harassment by some other members of the Texans’ cheerleading squad also doesn’t address the claims of wage theft. We are still a very long way from a resolution here.

More on the Texans’ cheerleader lawsuit

Here’s a story in Vanity Fair about the second lawsuit filed against the Houston Texans by a group of former cheerleaders, who allege wage theft and harassment, among other things. The tale is from the perspective of plaintiff Gabriella Davis, and much of it focuses on the lousy treatment she and her fellow cheerleaders got from the team and specifically its longtime cheerleading director, Altovise Gary. I encourage you to read all that, but I want to highlight the matters relating to money:

Davis said the cheerleaders were frequently reminded that they were replaceable: “We were told, ‘There’s another girl who will do it for free,’” she said.

But they practically did that themselves.

According to both Davis and a copy of the 2017-2018 Texans cheerleader contract, cheerleaders were making $7.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage, or approximately $1,500 per season. The employment agreement stipulates that the cheerleaders are hired as part-time employees (by day, some were college students, lawyers, or worked in P.R.). But Davis, as well as her former teammates who are suing the Texans, argued that Gary warned them upfront that they would be “part-time employees with full-time hours.” Their time commitment included games, practices, and a required 50 team-sponsored promotional appearances during the season. The cheerleaders said they were not paid overtime for hours of work outside of cheering, including selling calendars and meeting fans after games, plus daily social-media requirements, which included tweeting from the official cheerleader handle and following hundreds of people on Twitter in order to boost the account’s following.

See here and here for the background. The “we can replace you with someone who’d do this for free” attitude is pervasive, and is right there in the comments on the Chron story about the more recent lawsuit. You want to talk about “economic anxiety”, I’m here to say there would be a whole lot less of it if people didn’t internalize that message. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would side with the multi-billion dollar entity that could easily afford to pay these women a salary that’s actually commensurate with the work they do and the value they add. I’m rooting for the courts to see it the same way, but ultimately what we need is better legislation to improve working life for all of us. Here are statements from the plaintiffs and a statement from the Texans on this case. I’m sure we have not seen the last of these in the league.

TDCJ, here’s your moment in the sexual harassment spotlight

Please learn from it.

More than a decade after a sexual assault scandal rocked the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the agency is still a “boys’ club” plagued by sexual harassment and a culture that makes it difficult for women to get promoted despite efforts to bring them into the ranks, according to more than a dozen current and former employees.

Three of the 10 highest-paid employees in the prison system and about 25 percent of wardens are women, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of 2017 state data.

But female officers also have to contend with harassment from coworkers, masturbating inmates and fear of retaliation if they complain, according to lawsuits, state records and interviews.

“You think it’s the inmates you have to worry about,” said one former employee, who asked not to be identified, “but it’s actually the people you work with.”

Some women told the Chronicle of enduring lewd comments or inappropriate contact from co-workers. One female employee said she and other women guards picked jobs working around inmates to avoid having contact with the men who supervised them.

The latest allegations come amid the rise of the #MeToo movement, which has focused a national spotlight on allegations of sexual abuse and harassment. And they follow a $250,000 settlement reached by the department last year in a lawsuit accusing a male lieutenant of raping an officer he supervised — a claim reminiscent of former assistant director Sammy Buentello, who retired in 2004 amid criminal charges and a high-dollar lawsuit by multiple women accusing him of sexual harassment and assault.

[…]

More than 44 percent of TDCJ employees are female, but those numbers include administrative assistants, librarians, attorneys and the high-ranking officials overseeing it all.

Even fewer guards — just 38 percent of the more than 22,000 corrections officers —are women.

Higher ranks are even more male-dominated. About 27 percent of sergeants are women. Moving up, about 25 percent of captains, 26 percent of lieutenants, and just 21 percent of majors and assistant wardens are women.

“You just have a culture of indifference, the good-old-boy system as they call it,” said Lance Lowry, a Huntsville corrections officer and former union president. “And the numbers clearly reflect that. If 38 percent of the officers are female, 38 percent of the sergeants should be, too.”

The disparity in promotions corresponds to a disparity in the average pay, with women earning about $2,700 a year less than men throughout the department, according to 2017 data.

As the story notes, this is not the first time TDCJ has had these issues, and even with all the attention being paid to sexual harassment in the workplace, the odds are it won’t be the last time, too. It’s a long and detailed piece, so go read the whole thing, and then contemplate the fact that an enterprising reporter could point her notebook at just about any major workplace, inside or outside of government, and come away with a similar tale. That is, after all, what this is all about. Grits has more.

State Senate finally updates its sexual harassment policy

We’d been waiting.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

The Texas Senate has adopted a new sexual harassment policy that mandates in-person anti-sexual harassment training for senators and offers more details on specific steps for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The Senate’s policy, which was sent out to Senate staffers on Wednesday, was expanded from a one-page document to a more extensive set of guidelines that provide detailed examples of what constitutes sexual harassment and more thoroughly explain the ways victims can get help through internal and external complaint processes.

The revisions come months after the The Texas Tribune detailed a wide range of harassment in state politics and the scant protections offered to victims through the chambers’ policies, and after The Daily Beast detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature. Those accounts included specific allegations against Democratic state Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio. Both have denied the allegations.

Like in the House — where lawmakers revised the chamber’s policy in December — the Senate’s training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune.

In a letter to her colleagues obtained by the Tribune, Senate Administration Chair Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, indicated a list of lawmakers who have completed the training would be available to the public. But the chamber’s policy does not appear to set any sort of immediate deadline for current elected officials.

Instead, the revised policy indicates that in-person training will be offered every two years and that new employees must complete an online training within the first 30 days of their employment.

The policy was also revised to specifically state that senators will not be involved in investigating other senators, leaving investigations to the chamber’s human resources director and “impartial attorneys.”

But questions remain about how senators, who ultimately answer to voters back home, could be disciplined if they are found to have sexually harassed someone.

The Senate had a hearing on this back in December, to give you some idea of the time frame. The House had made some alterations to its policy a few days before that, and then rolled out a training video in January. A House workgroup was convened in mid-May to do some more stuff, though at this point I have no idea what to expect. It’s easy to make fun of all this, but it’s hard for me to say what a sufficient policy looks like. I’ve been asking every candidate I interview about sexual harassment policies, and for the most part I get responses that include things like better transparency, fuller protections for people who report harassment, and of course not using government funds to pay off harassment claims, in the manner of Blake Farenthold. Is that enough? I honestly don’t know, and as someone who has been lucky enough to have never experienced any harassment, I’m not really the right person to judge. I will note that Annie’s List put out a statement complaining about the lack of guidelines on disciplinary action for offenders, including – and one must admit this gets thorny – officeholders. The House is still working on this, and maybe the Senate will be as well, so there’s still a chance to make progress. From where I sit, there’s still a lot to be made.

State House remembers it was going to do something about sexual harassment

It’s something.

Rep. Joe Straus

Months after reports detailed a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the state Capitol, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday announced another measure to address the issue.

Straus, a Republican who will retire early next year, created a work group to recommend additional steps to “prevent and eradicate” misconduct in the Legislature. The appointment of the group comes months after the House updated its sexual harassment policy following reports from The Texas Tribune detailing flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

“This is the next step in our effort to make sure that sexual harassment is not tolerated at the Texas Capitol,” Straus said in a news release.

In a news release, Straus said the group will review existing policies and research best practices from other states to ensure a safe environment. The co-chairs of the new group are state Reps. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, and Donna Howard, D-Austin. Other members are: state Reps. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson; Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Lina Ortega, D-El Paso; Abel Herrero, D-Robstown; Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress; Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston; and Gene Wu, D-Houston.

The House revised its policy in December to require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. House leaders cannot require lawmakers to complete the training, but all current lawmakers took the online course this year.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, the House has still done more than the Senate has done. Putting this group together to do something is good. Having that group actually do something, something constructive, will be better. The Chron has more.

Someone needs to sue Blake Farenthold

That’s my response to this.

Blake Farenthold

Four months after U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold promised to repay an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement funded by taxpayers — and 11 days after the Republican resigned his Corpus Christi seat — he has yet to write a check. And with Farenthold out of public office and increasingly out of the public eye, there’s little anyone can do to force him.

Farenthold pledged last winter to personally repay the cash paid out by the federal government to a former staffer, Lauren Greene, who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014. When news of the settlement surfaced in December, Farenthold told a local TV station he’d reimburse the money that same week, saying “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for this.” In January, he said he would wait to repay the money after seeing what changes Congress would make to policies around the issue, saying he wanted to seek legal counsel.

Then, he resigned abruptly on April 6 — days before the House Ethics Committee, which was investigating his misconduct, would have released its findings in his case, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has led efforts to reform Congress’s sexual harassment complaint process. After leaving public office, he immediately shut down his social media accounts and went silent. Requests for comment to his former staff were not returned.

The House committee no longer has jurisdiction to investigate Farenthold, though its members called on him “in the strongest possible terms” to return the money. But there’s no legal avenue to force Farenthold to repay the money — meaning the only option is “public shame,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“He does not seem like someone who is easily shamed,” Libowitz said. “When this came to light, he said that he would pay it back, then started looking for more and more reasons to delay the payment. It became pretty clear that if he wasn’t forced to pay it back — which legally he’s not required to — he didn’t seem all that interested in it.”

See here and here for the background. The story doesn’t even mention the possibility of a lawsuit, so I could be completely out to lunch here – as we well know, I Am Not A Lawyer. All I can say is that some crazier lawsuits than what I am suggesting have gotten traction in the courts lately, so why not take a shot at it? Surely there’s a taxpayer out there with some time on their hands and the desire to throw a little sand in Blake Farenthold’s gears.

More fire department sexual harassment allegations

Welcome to the Woodlands.

When she began her job at the fire department of The Woodlands Township in July 2013, Julie Thomas believed her skin was sufficiently thick to endure a work environment dominated almost entirely by “men with big egos.”

But Thomas, hired as a customer service representative when she was 22, said she soon felt overwhelmed as she became the target of sexually charged comments, jokes and explicit sexual propositions, allegations she detailed in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the township last month in a Houston federal court.

The lawsuit against The Woodlands Township alleges that Thomas was subjected to sexual harassment in a hostile work environment where four women work with more than 100 men. When she complained to a supervisor and to the Human Resources office, she contends she was fired in retaliation.

[…]

The lawsuit against The Woodlands Township describes the fire department there as an “old-boys club or a fraternity house, ” where members “created a severe and pervasive hostile work environment based on sex.”

The harassment escalated in 2015 after Thomas began a weight loss regime, her suit says.

In one incident, according to the lawsuit, Thomas said Battalion Chief Jason Washington told her that she was “looking good these days” and suggested that they could have sex. The chief assured Thomas that her husband, firefighter Josh Thomas, could be kept in the dark.

“Come on Julie, Josh doesn’t have to know,” said Washington, according to suit.

In another incident, the lawsuit describes that Lt. Thomas Richardson “came up to Mrs. Thomas and made sound effects that mimicked a motorboat noise, which is frequently associated with placing one’s lips on a woman’s breasts, and said ‘Oh girl, the things I can do to you.’”

Thomas alleged she reported the incidents to her supervisor and the HR office, but no action was taken.

The Woodlands Township and its Fire Department deny the allegations, of course. I have no insight as to what may or may not have happened in this particular case, but I will say three things. One, no one should be surprised when allegations like this arise, because this has been and still is happening literally everywhere. Two, even if one it taken aback by an individual incident, no one should be surprised when more women come forward to bolster the original accusations now that the barrier of silence has been broken. And three, if you’re tired of hearing about this stuff and wish it would all just stop, remember that the way for it to stop is for there to be no tolerance for harassment. Don’t harass, and don’t defend or ally yourself with those who do, and we will begin to see a real decline in these incidents. We all need to do our part.

More on the HFD sex discrimination lawsuit

Is anyone surprised that a lot more female firefighters have come forward to describe incidents of harassment at HFD since the initial story was published? Because if you are, I don’t think you’ve been paying much attention to the news over the past year or so.

Nearly 10 years after a sexual harassment scandal roiled the ranks, the Houston Fire Department remains a hostile work environment for some women, according to more than half-dozen current and former firefighters who spoke to the Houston Chronicle about workplace conditions and gender bias.

“It’s still uncomfortable,” said one longtime female HFD veteran, who like most, did not want to be named for fear of retribution. “Houston still has not embraced the diversity of women within the department.”

And while women have made gains since the incidents in 2009 led to a widespread investigation, a Department of Justice lawsuit filed recently against the city has brought renewed scrutiny to gender issues at HFD, where fewer than 4 percent of the department’s 4,000 firefighters are women.

Some women have left the department in frustration. Others stay silent, enduring daily tensions to pursue their lifelong dreams, they told the Chronicle.

“It’s a Catch-22,” said another longtime female firefighter. “Most grin and bear it. They don’t want that label, ‘she’s a problem child,’ or, ‘Don’t say anything around her or she’ll file a grievance.’

“I just want to be treated fair.”

[…]

One aspiring firefighter said she’d always wanted to join the Houston Fire Department.

She put her financial security on hold to go through the months-long academy, earning just $800 every other week. She thought she’d find a teamlike atmosphere but was met instead with instructors who she believed wanted her to fail.

She quit on the verge of graduation and found a better-paying job as a paramedic elsewhere.

“I have no desire to work for a place like that,” said the former trainee, who attended HFD’s academy within the last five years. “I’d rather drive an hour or more to a different fire department where people treat others like human beings, and you don’t get discriminated against because you weren’t born a male.”

Another woman who recently attended the academy described an atmosphere where instructors did not acknowledge women and appeared to purposely sabotage training routines to make it more difficult for them. In one instance, she said, an instructor made her carry a fully charged firehouse into a burning space in a more difficult posture than she’d been trained, and with less line available on the ground.

She’d hoped to find a “family of people that support each other,” but said she was disappointed.

She described a hostile work environment where her male colleagues routinely refer to women as “bitches,” and frequently make derogatory comments after responding to medical calls where the people they were helping were a gay or lesbian, she said.

“I see a lot of sexism and racism,” she said. “It’s really harder being a female in the fire department, point blank … You have this idea how it would be and it’s not like that at all.”

See here for the background, and click over for more, because there is more. This is what I mean when I said there are plenty of people at HFD who know who did what to whom. The higher-ups are all saying the right things – Chief Pena, the union officials, etc – but we need to hear it from the rank and file as well. If HFD wants to rid itself of the “cloud” that persists over it, there needs to be a top-to-bottom commitment to root this kind of behavior out. I guarantee you, HFD knows who the bad actors are. What are they going to do about them?

Shipley responds to harassment allegations

Admit nothing, deny everything, make counter-accusations.

The sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the owner of Shipley Do-Nuts this month is the latest in an ongoing legal fight between the doughnut maker and other former workers over an alleged fraud scheme.

Three women claim Lawrence Shipley III routinely groped them and used racial slurs for Hispanics in a lawsuit filed in Harris County district court earlier this month.

He has flatly denied those allegations, and says the women are retaliating against his company after it fired a former plant manager for allegedly steering more than $1 million worth of contracts to distribution companies he owned.

Shipley sued Julian Garcia, the plant manager, for the alleged fraud scheme in September.

“These people were employed and cared for by my family for over 20 years,” Lawrence Shipley wrote last week. “What they are doing now is nothing more than hateful retaliation for becoming corrupt, entitled and self-serving.”

Murphy Klasing, who is representing Shipley Do-Nuts, said he was unsure of exactly what roles Esmeralda Sanchez, Martha Garcia and Elizabeth Peralta played in Julian Garcia’s alleged scheme.

See here for the background. I don’t see any reason to believe Shipley’s claims about his accusers, but one way or another the story will come out. In the meantime, I’m still not buying any of his donuts.

Oh, no, Shipley’s

Disgusting.

Three former Shipley Do-Nuts employees are suing the company’s owner for allegedly groping them and making racist remarks, accusations that are consistent with a bevy of civil rights lawsuits filed by former workers since 2004.

The women claim that Lawrence Shipley III “regularly subjected them to unwelcome touching, other inappropriate physical behavior and unwelcome sexual comments,” according to a lawsuit filed in Harris County on Friday against the donut company and its owner.

“(Shipley) hugged Elizabeth Peralta tight across her front and touched her rear and buttocks,” the suit says. “He stared at her breasts and crotch areas. He spanked her rear.”

The other plaintiffs allege similar action from Shipley while working at the Houston-based chain’s North Main Street location. During one incident, plaintiff Esmeralda Sanchez claims Shipley did not punish a male supervisor who made sexual innuendos to her, instead saying that the way she dressed encouraged the behavior. They seek more than $1 million in damages.

The three women are also plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed against the company last year for failing to pay overtime, an allegation that’s been lodged many times against the company in suits.

In an email Sunday, Lawrence Shipley said his accusers were caught “red-handed in an elaborate corruption scheme whereby they duped the Shipley companies and more than 20 franchisees out of legitimate delivery and freight services for their own financial gain.”

“And if I were to become somebody I’m not and stumble over to the dark side, it wouldn’t be with these low lifes,” he wrote. “What a baseless, pathetic accusation. That’s my comment.”

An attorney for the three women said it was unclear what Shipley meant in his statement. Karla Evans Epperson said she was not aware of any legal actions against her clients that would explain Shipley’s comments. Two of the women worked in housekeeping, and the other did clerical work, according to the first suit.

Epperson said she wasn’t surprised by Shipley’s comments, though.

“This isn’t his first rodeo,” she said.

There’s more, so go read the rest. That North Main location is where I take the girls for donuts when they convince us to buy them. Not anymore. I will not darken the doorstep of a Shipley’s till this jackass has sold his shares and they have put in real reforms to treat their employees better and prevent crap like this in the future. What a damn shame.

We have no idea how many sexual harassment complaints there have been at the Capitol

And we have a too zealous records retention policy to blame for that.

Late last year, amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct in politics, media and entertainment, reports surfaced of a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the Texas Capitol. The problem has been widespread and women appear to have such little confidence in traditional avenues for reporting grievances that they started their own list of “bad men” to warn others in Texas politics.

In response to media reports, the Texas House announced a new sexual harassment policy, which included training and counseling for employees and lawmakers, in the hopes that it would curb harassment and help victims report abuse. But the policy seems to have a glaring blindspot: Complaints, when filed with the House, are destroyed five years after they are investigated. While so many stories exist, records do not.

In November, the Texas Tribune reported that there were no formal complaints of sexual harassment made in the House since 2011. In the Senate, there have been no formal complaints since 2001, Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw said in committee hearing the next month. But an Observer public records request revealed that there are no documented complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination on file against any lawmaker or legislative staffer in either chamber, at any time — partly a result of the Legislature’s records retention policy.

If a complaint was made against a lawmaker or staff member before 2011, it has since been destroyed, even if the lawmaker is still in office or the staffer is employed at the Capitol. By comparison, the Senate destroys complaints seven years after the accused leaves the Capitol. (The 2001 complaint in the Senate was filed by one staffer against another, both of whom left the Capitol more than seven years ago.)

“It’s ridiculous,” said Joanna Grossman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who researches sex discrimination and workplace equality. “There’s no reason to ever destroy them.”

While the policies are in line with state record retention guidelines, not keeping complaints on file indefinitely means the Legislature does not have a way to track alleged incidents, Grossman said. Future employers don’t have a way to discover details about an employee’s past conduct. Within the Capitol, repeat offenders and patterns of misconduct are also harder to identify.

“It’s just bad management generally, and it’s certainly not going to contribute to a better environment,” said Grossman.

Well then the good news is that now we know this, and it’s a simple and objective thing to fix. The story notes that some complaints were made verbally and there may not have been any record of them, so that’s another thing to fix. This needs to happen in the next session. Who will take the lead, and who will get in the way? It would be a good idea to get your legislators and the candidates running for election this year on the record about this.

Feds sue city over HFD sex discrimination claims

Yikes.

The Justice Department has sued the city of Houston over sex discrimination claims launched by two female firefighters who say their male coworkers tormented them by urinating on the women’s bathroom walls and sinks and scrawling vulgar slurs on their belongings.

Male firefighters allegedly turned off the cold water in showers to scald their female coworkers and disconnected speakers to prevent women from responding to calls in a string of bad behavior that eventually escalated to death threats, according to the lawsuit.

“Far too often, women are targeted and harassed in the workplace because of their sex,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “Employees have the right to work in an environment that is free from sex discrimination and retaliation.”

The conduct continued over time despite at least nine complaints to management, which failed to remedy the situation and allegedly created a hostile work environment for firefighters Jane Draycott and Paula Keyes.

The city did not comment on the suit, while the firefighters’ union pushed to see more evidence released in the case and decried long-standing criticism of the department.

“Dozens of firefighters cooperated in the various investigations of this incident, but unfounded criticism of Houston firefighters has continued for years,” Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton said.

[…]

Representatives from the firefighters’ union said the lawsuit underscored the need for city officials to make public the findings of an investigation involving 40 firefighters that were polygraphed and who gave sworn statements or handwriting samples during the investigation.

“From the beginning of this controversy, Houston firefighters have wanted the perpetrator(s) of the incidents at Station 54 found and punished appropriately,” Lancton said, in an emailed statement.

The union leader emphasized that the firefighters exonerated in the course of the investigation deserved to be recognized as such.

“Former Mayor Annise Parker rightly said in 2010 that Houston firefighters were ‘unjustly under a cloud.’ Eight years later, the cloud remains,” he said.

“The time has come for authorities to release all of the evidence in this case. Without a proper conclusion, the unjust ‘cloud’ will undermine a basic tenet of our justice system – innocent until proven guilty.”

The city has since announced that it will defend itself and that it “does not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment”; you can see the city’s statement here. I thought I’d written more about this in the past, but this is the only post that I can find.

The behaviors alleged are terrible and disgusting. I can’t imagine what it was like to be Jane Draycott or Paula Keyes. The fact that a city investigation failed to find the perpetrators – the story also referenced an unsuccessful FBI investigation – is greatly disheartening, and I think the key to this. Because while it may be the case that “dozens of firefighters cooperated” in those investigations, the one thing that I know to be true is that it is firefighters who did these vile acts, and firefighters who know who did them. And neither the guilty parties nor their buddies, who surely know who they are and what they did, came forward to admit any of it.

So while there is a cloud over the department, it is for that reason that I disagree that it is “unjust”. I guarantee you, there are plenty of firefighters who know who did what and when. Maybe that information exists in the city OIG report, but it doesn’t really matter. Nothing is stopping the firefighters who know the truth from coming forward on their own and telling it. And please, don’t tell me that it would be hard or that they would put themselves at risk or anything like that. It was hard for Jane Draycott and Paula Keyes. Jane Draycott and Paula Keyes put themselves at significant risk, and they very much felt the consequences for that. The firefighters who know the truth can damn well deal with it.

So sure, the city should release its report. Maybe it will tell us things we don’t already know. But some people could tell us even more than that. It’s time they started. The #MeToo movement is ultimately about work, and the women who have been denied the opportunity to do the work they want to do, not just by the lowlifes who harass them but by those who stood by and stayed silent as it was happening. Now, at long last, is HFD’s chance to do something about that. Courthouse News, which has a copy of the lawsuit, has more.

Looks like the House just totally solved its sexual harassment problem

They went and got themselves a new training video. Woo hoo!

[I]t’s a 40-minute video that seems unlikely to change the toxic atmosphere at the statehouse any time soon.

The training is a video of a PowerPoint presentation with a voiceover that also covers discrimination based on race, age, disability and genetics. Just 18 minutes of the video is dedicated to sexual harassment, including boilerplate examples of harassment, reasons to prevent it, laws against sexual harassment, the House’s policy and reporting mechanisms.

“The whole video has a feeling of, ‘Let’s quick minimize liability on every front, watch this video,’” said Joanna Grossman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who researches sex discrimination and workplace equality.

Recent research shows that if training isn’t properly designed, it’s unlikely to lead to more reporting of harassment, much less reduce instances of inappropriate behavior. According to Eden King, a psychology professor at Rice University, there’s some evidence that training programs have better outcomes when they are longer than four hours, include face-to-face interaction, involve interactive learning, are conducted by outside experts and actively involve leaders in the workplace. The House video meets none of those criteria.

Instead of being paired with an interactive, in-person training as recommended by researchers, the video is available on the House’s internal server and is probably watched alone. Viewers are required to take a 10-question, multiple-choice test. To pass, you must answer at least seven questions correctly. If you fail, you can simply retake the test without having to watch the video a second time.

[…]

When institutions face allegations of sexual harassment, Grossman said, the instinct is often to establish programs that reduce legal liability. The law tends to reward somewhat “superficial or simplistic” measures, she said, such as merely implementing a policy or conducting training. A 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that most of the harassment training conducted in the last 30 years has failed to reduce harassment and has instead been used to meet legal requirements. “Ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive,” the report noted.

Research shows that to create an environment of equality, institutions must go beyond training. One crucial aspect is to ensure that victims feel they have a safe way to report complaints.

“If the video clearly explains the options [to report harassment], but you go to complain and you get the message that you’re causing trouble and you shouldn’t be, then the training will have had no benefit,” said Grossman.

See here, here, and here for some background. I like that seven out of ten is enough to pass this little quizlet. It’s good to know that someone is thinking about all those C- students at the Pink Dome. Think how much better our statewide achievement numbers would be if the STAAR test were like this.

I’ve been asking all the candidates I interview about sexual harassment, since we all need to be talking and thinking and doing something about it. Clearly, we need a process where the person who reports harassment is taken seriously and shielded from retaliation. The rights of the accused need to be respected during the investigation, but once a finding has been reached then there needs to be some transparency. As the story notes, you can’t just fire a legislator who has been found to have harassed someone, but you can make that information public, with redaction of the victim’s name. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I bet if we asked the women who have come forward and told their stories, we’d get some pretty decent ideas for how to proceed. Better than watching a silly video, I’m sure.

The Alley Theater debacle

What a mess.

More than a dozen current and former Alley Theatre employees say the outgoing artistic director, Gregory Boyd, created a toxic work environment at the city’s most renowned theater, describing him as a tyrant who frequently singled out young female actresses for verbal abuse.

The allegations against Boyd, who abruptly retired this week after a 28-year Tony-winning run at the Alley, focus primarily on bullying and abusive behavior directed at young women under his direction on the stage.

Emily Trask, a member of the company for nearly two years, said she quit the Alley in April after reporting to three members of management that Boyd had bullied her, screaming “What the f— is wrong with you?” at a rehearsal, called her a “stupid c—” while giving another actor stage direction and twice touched her buttocks inappropriately.

“I felt I had no choice but to leave what was my dream job,” she said, citing “harassment and what I felt to be an unsafe environment.”

Boyd did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.

A second actress, who asked not be identified for fear of retaliation, shared a similar story.

The actress said Boyd pinched her buttocks once on stage and once while she was making coffee in a break room. He made sexual comments about her to other actors, she said, and talked about the way she dressed and screamed at her on stage for the smallest of missteps.

“It was a very scary place to work for me,” she said, “a very hostile place.”

Like Trask, she said she complained to management, but nothing happened. “It was like it just got swept under the rug.”

The theater’s administrators and board president declined to answer questions about the allegations against Boyd, 66, who was widely considered the most influential figure in Houston’s theater scene. Boyd was just one year into a five-year contract and was paid at least $420,000 in the fiscal year that ended in June 2016, according to the company’s tax records.

[…]

The Houston Chronicle started interviewing Alley employees in November as the “Me Too” movement spread nationally and current and former employees complained about Boyd . On Dec. 20, the Chronicle asked to review the Alley’s financial records under a state law that requires certain disclosures by nonprofits. The theater declined to produce the records electronically; a date stamp indicated it printed them out on Dec. 29, but the theater told the Chronicle they were ready on Jan. 4.

The Alley’s press release, issued Tuesday, said Boyd had planned to retire last fall but delayed the announcement because of Hurricane Harvey.

“Leading this extraordinary theatre company in this wonderful city for over a quarter century has been an artistic dream fulfilled,” Boyd was quoted as saying in the press release. “With the marvelous efforts of the artists, staff, and Board, we created a state of the art theatre-making complex with performance, production, and administration all in a brilliant, expansive space that welcomes theatre-goers in a unique and exciting way. The Alley’s achievements have been a great source of satisfaction for me and I look forward to new achievements to come in the next era.”

ABC-13’s Miya Shay has been reporting on this as well. The sudden retirement of a 28-year artistic director of the city’s best-known theater, without any fanfare of advance notice or plans for a sendoff by itself raises suspicions, and I suspect there’s still more to the story to come. First and foremost are the questions about how this went on for so long without anyone at the Alley taking action.

The board of the Alley Theatre announced plans Friday to create a special committee to evaluate “the workplace environment” after the Houston Chronicle reported that more than a dozen current and former employees said former artistic director Gregory Boyd had fostered a toxic, abusive culture for decades.

In a 79-word statement, the board did not mention Boyd by name and did not directly address the Chronicle’s report, published Friday, which included interviews with actors and actresses who said Boyd had screamed obscenities at them during rehearsals. Two actresses alleged that Boyd also touched them inappropriately on their buttocks.

“During this transition to new artistic leadership, the Board of Directors has renewed its commitment to providing a dignified and respectful workplace,” the statement said. “The Board has also appointed a special committee to assess the workplace environment and deliver recommendations to ensure the Alley Theatre continues to be a destination for world-class talent.”

[…]

“I think the Alley owes Houston a tremendous apology for misusing the community’s trust and for covering up reprehensible behavior,” said Michael Dragoni, who was Boyd’s assistant from 1996 to 1998 and described the job as “an almost non-stop abusive situation.”

He said he saw Boyd berate actresses and touch a former staff member on her thigh inappropriately until she stood up and left a rehearsal.

“They have known about the toxicity from the beginning, and multiple leaders over the years have turned a blind eye and allowed things to get completely out of control,” Dragoni said.

Greg Lasley, who worked at the Alley from 2006 to 2011 as a bartender, described a “conspiracy of silence there.”

“People would complain, the board would show up and squash the complaint,” Lasley said.

Tony Bradfield, co-owner of Tenenbaum Jewelers, a longtime supporter of the Alley, expressed dismay at the accounts of an oppressive environment.

“I don’t think anyone of either gender, women mostly, should have to go through any of that,” Bradfield said. “I feel strongly about that.”

The Alley’s administration has not offered any response to the allegations against Boyd beyond Friday’s statement.

Here’s the Alley’s board of directors. I agree with Michael Dragoni, but an apology isn’t enough. The Board was clearly part of the problem. If they really want to make amends and move forward, those who were part of the problem should not be part of the solution. Most if not all of them should make plans to step down and let someone else clean up this mess. I hate to see a cultural jewel like the Alley go through such turbulence, but they brought this on themselves by failing to take action on this long-standing and well-known-to-them problem. They need to take the resolution to this seriously. I hope they do.

Still grappling with how to handle sexual harassment claims

I like the idea of putting the authority to investigate harassment claims in the Legislature into an independent body.

Calls for independence between sexual misconduct investigations and those in power have grown in recent months, and experts and several lawmakers agree that impartiality is crucial for building trust in a reporting system at the Capitol, where repercussions for elected officials are virtually nonexistent. But efforts to establish that independence — which could require officeholders to give up their current oversight over investigations — will likely face political challenges in persuading lawmakers to hand over power to a third party.

Any independent entity investigating sexual misconduct at the Capitol would need the power to truly hold elected officials accountable, several lawmakers and legal experts said. That could mean sanctions against officeholders that their colleagues may be unlikely to pursue.

“It cannot be officeholders policing officeholders,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who is among those calling for an independent investigative agency.

[…]

But to alleviate concerns with existing reporting procedures that leave investigations in the hands of elected officials, lawmakers have proposed several ways to establish what they say is needed independence in investigations. Those proposals range from a review panel that doesn’t include lawmakers to a new state entity comparable to the Texas Ethics Commission, which regulates political activities and spending.

The creation of an independent investigative body “is a necessary immediate step” for the Legislature to address skepticism in the current reporting system set up for sexual harassment victims, said Chris Kaiser, director of public policy and general counsel for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

“I don’t think that you have to impugn the work that any investigators are doing currently to accept the fact that that skepticism itself is preventing people from coming forward,” Kaiser said. “It’s really clear the Legislature has a lot of work to do to build trust.”

See here and here for some background. I will just say, if there is an independent body to handle these complaints, it has to be truly independent, by which I mean free from any legislative authority or meddling. I mean, the Texas Ethics Commission is an independent body, but it’s hardly a good role model for this sort of thing. I have a hard time imagining that happening, but if there’s enough of a shakeup in the composition of the Lege, there might be a chance. First and foremost, it needs to be an issue in the campaigns. I’m asking every candidate I interview about harassment and the institutional policies that deal with it. The more we talk about it, the better.

Senate has a hearing on its sexual harassment policy

The babiest of baby steps.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

There has only been one official sexual harassment complaint in the Texas Senate since 2001, the secretary of the Senate said Thursday.

The Senate Administration Committee debated possible ways to revise current sexual harassment policy Thursday. The meeting comes a week after online publication The Daily Beast reported on multiple alleged instances of sexual misconduct by Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, both Democrats.

The news outlet based its accounts on interviews and communications with an unnamed female political consultant, current and former legislative employees and current and former journalists. An unnamed Democratic state representative corroborated one of the women’s stories, it said.

After the report, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the head of a Senate panel that handles internal matters, whether the chamber is doing all it should to shield lawmakers and Senate employees from lurid and “inappropriate behavior.”

Senators quizzed secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw and director of human resources Delicia Sams on what current policy dictates for people complaining of sexual harassment and people accused of sexual harassment.

Spaw confirmed that the single official sexual harassment complaint in the Senate she received did not involve a lawmaker. She also said she knows there have been instances where chiefs of staff deal with “inappropriate conduct” within a senator’s office.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is not a member of the Senate Administration Committee but attended Thursday’s hearing, expressed surprise at Spaw’s number. The Houston Democrat cited media reports that led her to believe sexual harassment was a bigger problem than official records may show.

“There’s got to be a flaw in our system if people feel more free to talk to the press than they do to us,” Garcia said. “And it has to be a process that’s open and that’s independent, and one that’s going to ensure fairness and accountability to anyone who’s accused no matter who they are.”

Senators who are accused of sexual harassment will be dealt with according to the severity of their actions, Sams explained. For instance, if a senator made an inappropriate comment, the secretary of the Senate would talk to him or her about it. If the offense was worse, the secretary would then take the complaint to the Senate Administration Committee and lieutenant governor to how to proceed.

While the recent reporting about rampant sexual harassment at the Capitol came up, no one was mentioned by name. The Chron adds on.

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers learned that while the Senate offers sexual harassment prevention training once every two years, not all Senators and their staffs get the training. It is mandatory training for the staff of the secretary of the Senate and for the lieutenant governor’s office. But individual senators and their staffs do not have to attend the training.

Also, lawmakers got assurances from the Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw that there is no secret fund to pay out sexual harassment claims in Texas as was the case in Congress. In addition, she said that as far as she knew, there have been no payments made to settle sexual harassment claims since she became the Secretary of the Senate in 2001.

Spaw assured lawmakers that her office takes any issues on the topic with sincerity.

“I know I have always taken it seriously,” Spaw said.

After the hearing, Spaw said some individual Senate offices may have handled sexual harassment issues on their own but she did not provide details. She said the only formal complaint handled by her office was in 2001, but she refused make public details of that case. She only said people lost their jobs and it was an issue between staff members and didn’t involve elected senators.

One of the problems with the current system is that there is no accountability or reporting procedure for how individual Senate offices are handling sexual harassment issues, Garcia said.

“No one is tracking those numbers,” she said.

That seems like a pretty obvious place to begin. You can’t hope to fix something that you can’t measure. Of course, you have to have a reliable reporting system to get good data first. The House just updated its policies, so maybe that’s a place for the Senate to start.

And for now at least that may be all we’re going to get. No one is willing to talk about the specific people who have been named as a part of the problem just yet. I can think of a variety of possible explanations for that, but the one I’m settling on is that there isn’t enough pressure on anyone to talk in anything but generalities. Our attention is split a million ways – I mean, the national scene is dumpster fires everywhere you look – and partly because of that our state scandals tend to have a much harder time penetrating the consciousness. I don’t know what exactly it will take for this to become a higher profile issue. I just know that at some point, perhaps when we least expect it, it will become one. The Observer and the Current have more.

Farenthold changes course

Sort of.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, will retire from Congress after finishing his current term, a source close to the congressman told The Tribune Thursday morning. Farenthold soon confirmed the decision in an emotional video posted on Facebook.The decision came after a difficult December for the four-term congressman. Farenthold, one of the quieter members of the Texas delegation, found himself embroiled in a charged atmosphere of sexual harassment allegations in Washington, D.C.

The final blow came in the form of a CNN report on Wednesday night highlighting new sexual harassment allegations that included former employees describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning.

“I’d never served in public office before,” Farenthold said of the allegations in his video Thursday. “I had no idea how to run a Congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional. It accommodated destructive gossip, off-hand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional.

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and too often a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he added. “That was wrong. Clearly, it’s not how I was raised, it’s not who I am and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry.”

While he “expected a tough primary campaign” and “was looking forward to it,” Farenthold said he would retire instead.

“I would be forced to engage in a month-long campaign for personal vindication,” he said. “That’s not why I came to Congress. Quite simply, my constituents deserve better.”

See here and here for some background. There’s a big complicating factor in all this that I will get to in a moment, but first let’s take a closer look at those latest allegations.

A former senior aide to Rep. Blake Farenthold has approached the House Ethics Committee to share a damning account of working for the Texas Republican, with the intent of describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning — and his congressional office as an intensely hostile environment that drove the aide to physical and emotional distress.

Michael Rekola, who was Farenthold’s communications director in 2015, described in an interview with CNN new details of the congressman’s abusive behavior. It ranged from making sexually graphic jokes to berating aides — bullying that Rekola says led him to seek medical treatment and psychological counseling, and at one point, caused him to vomit daily.

One comment from the congressman was especially personal. Rekola was about to leave town to get married in July 2015, when, he said, Farenthold, standing within earshot of other staffers in his Capitol Hill office, said to the groom-to-be: “Better have your fiancée blow you before she walks down the aisle — it will be the last time.” He then proceeded to joke about whether Rekola’s now-wife could wear white on her wedding day — a clear reference, Rekola said, to whether she had had premarital sex.

“I was disgusted and I left. I walked out,” Rekola said. Almost immediately after returning from his wedding, he gave his two-weeks notice.

Boy, he must have been a hell of a boss to work for, don’t you think? And good Lord that “I’d never run a Congressional office before” baloney. Simple human decency is more than enough to prevent most people from saying and doing these things to coworkers and colleagues, and that’s before you factor in the power you had to fire them. What a total jackass.

So what about that complicating factor? Well, you may recall that the filing deadline was Monday. State law allows a 24-hour period after that to reconsider and withdraw. Guess what? It’s too late for Farenthold to do that.

Farenthold’s decision comes two days too late to remove his name from next year’s Republican primary ballot, according to state officials.

Monday was the deadline for candidates to file for a spot on the ballots for the Republican and Democratic primaries. Candidates have until the day after the regular filing deadline – which was Tuesday – to withdraw from their race, according to the Texas Election Code.

The party can also reject a candidate’s application for a place on the primary ballot. But when a party chooses to do this, it happens at the outset rather than after the candidate was already accepted on the ballot.

Since Farenthold missed the Tuesday deadline to withdraw, his name will still remain on the Republican primary ballot on March 6, according to Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

“Barring any challenge to the candidate’s application before the mail-in ballots go out in late January, his name will still be on the ballot,” Taylor said.

According to the Texas Election Code, a challenge to a candidate’s application “must state with specificity how the application does not comply with the applicable requirements as to form, content, and procedure.” A challenge to Farenthold’s application would need to be brought into the Secretary of State’s office prior to Jan. 19 — before any mail-in ballots are mailed out to Texas voters.

A successful challenge would need to prove Farenthold’s application did not comply with state law – like providing an incorrect permanent residence or mailing address.

Farenthold’s plans to resign isn’t enough to challenge his application, Taylor said.

As RG Ratcliffe puts it, this is Farenthold’s “final screwup” as an accidental Congressman. He’s still on the March ballot, and that means there’s at least a chance that he could win that election and be the Republican nominee in CD27 next November. Which would leave him and the Republican leadership that put pressure on him to quit the choice of leaving him there and letting him be a campaign issue for the rest of the year, or having him withdraw and concede the seat to the Democratic nominee. Well, as we saw in CD22 in 2006, you could try to run a write-in candidate, and who knows, maybe the district is Republican enough to still win in that fashion. Let’s just say the Republicans would rather not have to find out. Way to go, Blake. Mother Jones has more.

So now that names have been named, now what?

Maybe some hearings? I don’t know.

Texas leaders called for a review of sexual harassment policies at the state Legislature following a Texas Tribune story detailing how current procedures offered little protection for victims and describing a wide range of harassment at the Capitol. The Texas House approved changes to its policy last week. The Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst to lead a review of the chamber’s policy, has yet to hold any public hearings on the matter.

“These are serious allegations that have been denied by the senators,” Patrick said in a statement responding to the calls for resignation Thursday, adding that he had asked Kolkhorst to “determine if there are additional steps we should take.”

“I know she has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior,” Patrick said.

Earlier today, state Sen. José Rodríguez, chairman of the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said the behavior alleged in the Daily Beast article is “unacceptable” in any situation, but especially so for an elected official.

“Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed,” he said in a statement before Annie’s List announced their call for resignation.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement that she finds the recent stories in the media “very alarming.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when people feel their only option is talking to the press,” she said.

Rodríguez and Garcia both called for independent investigations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol. The Texas Tribune previously reported that those in charge of investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints have little to no authority over lawmakers. Garcia said she is also calling for a hotline to report abuse.

“As this discussion continues at both the national and state levels, I applaud those who have come forward and encourage more women to continue shedding light on the culture of many of our industries and institutions, including the legislature, so we can create a culture shift where these incidents can be fully investigated, and hopefully, prevented,” Rodríguez said.

See here for the background. Since this story was published, Sen. Kolkhorst has agreed to hold a public hearing, on December 14. Details are here. According to Equality Texas, testimony is by invitation only, but the hearing is open. What if anything will come out of this is unclear, but it’s something.

I want to add that since that Daily Beast story was published, two friends of mine have posted on Facebook about their experiences with Sen. Miles. One reported that Miles “grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth”, the other said “I was “hugged” so closely, for so long and so…ummm….thoroughly (??) that I joked with one of my colleagues upon recounting the incident that I might ought to take a pregnancy test”. I’m not naming them because I didn’t ask them if I could name them here, but as I said they’re both friends of mine. I have no doubt that there are plenty of others with similar stories. This isn’t going away, and no number of complaints about anonymous allegations or “powerful enemies” will change the fact that there are real women out there with real stories to tell. What are we going to do about that? You know what I think. We need to know what our leaders think.

Farenthold draws a crowd of opponents

Bring ’em on.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

Bech Bruun, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, resigned Thursday from that position ahead of an anticipated bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

“Serving as the Chairman of the Texas Water Development Board has been the privilege of a lifetime,” Bruun wrote in a letter dated Dec. 7 to Gov. Greg Abbott obtained by The Texas Tribune. “Recent events, namely the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, have led my family and me to the belief that the time has come for me to focus my passion for public service closer to home.”

Bruun is expected to file to run as a Republican for Texas’ 27th Congressional District as early as Friday.

[…]

For months, Bruun has received encouragement from within the congressional district to challenge Farenthold, and his expected entrance into the race comes days before the 2018 filing deadline. Michael Cloud, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee and former chairman of the Victoria County GOP, launched a bid in October for the seat. Three lesser-known Republicans, Christopher Mapp, Jerry Hall and Eddie Gassman, have also lined up for potential campaigns.

On the Democratic side, at least two Democrats have so far filed to run for the seat.

These recent events also probably had an effect on his decision. And there’s more where that came from.

Members of the U.S. House Ethics Committee unanimously voted Thursday to establish a subcommittee to investigate allegations that U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Corpus Christi Republican, sexually harassed a subordinate several years ago.

[…]

“Over the last two weeks, more information has been disclosed about the nature of the settlement between the parties. In addition, both Representative Farenthold and the Complainant have publicly expressed an interest in increased transparency in this matter,” a committee news release stated. “In light of these developments, the Committee has determined that it is appropriate to establish an Investigative Subcommittee to continue its investigation.”

“The Committee notes that the mere fact of establishing an Investigative Subcommittee does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”

But wait, as the commercials used to say, that’s not all. There’s still more:

Embattled Texas Republican Blake Farenthold, under fire in an ongoing sexual harassment probe, said Friday that he and his entire congressional staff underwent sensitivity and sexual harassment training last year after two female staffers complained of gender discrimination and “sexualized commentary” in his Capitol Hill office.

The women’s complaints in 2016 followed that of former spokeswoman Lauren Greene, who had recently settled a federal lawsuit that accused Farenthold of sexual harassment and of firing her in retaliation for her complaint.

The new revelations, which Farenthold acknowledged to the Chronicle on Friday, bring to at least three the number of women who have complained of either sexual harassment, gender discrimination, or a hostile work environment in his office.

It’s never just one woman these guys harass. There’s always more. That aforementioned former subordinate will be giving testimony to the committee. We’ll see how that goes. Since that story was published on Thursday a third Democratic candidates has filed. The three Dem candidates in CD27 are Roy Barrera, who was Farenthold’s opponent in 2016, former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald, who ran for CD27 in 2012 but didn’t make it out of the primary, and first-time candidate Eric Holguin. Anyone want to lay odds on whether Farenthold makes it to November?

That sexual harassment day of reckoning in Texas politics has begun

The Daily Beast follows up its initial reporting about the secret sexual predators of Texas politics with a story that names names. Two names, in particular. Rather than excerpt at length, allow me to quote the Texas Monthly Daily Post summary of the article:

Two Texas state lawmakers face new sexual harassment allegations. Democratic state Representatives Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti were both named in detailed claims of sexual harassment by several people, including former staffers and interns, in a story published by the Daily Beast late Wednesday night. One woman said that when she was a Texas legislative intern, Miles approached her and offered her cash, saying, “Bitch, you want to fuck with me tonight?” In a separate alleged incident, a Democratic state representative said that he witnessed Miles leaning out of a bus and loudly cat-calling women on the streets of downtown Austin. A former legislative staffer said he saw Miles forcibly kiss a woman at the W Hotel in Austin. “He offered to buy her a drink, kept trying to kiss her, and she kept trying to push him away,” the staffer told the Daily Beast. “He kept laughing about it. It was so creepy, and he had this big smile . . . He also has a tendency to call women out of their name when they turn him down. ‘Bitch,’ ‘ho,’ ‘whore.’ He doesn’t like being told ‘no.’” Uresti, meanwhile, apparently had gained a reputation for harassing women. “[Uresti] was one of the worst,” former Texas political reporter Karen Brooks told the Daily Beast. “He would check me out all the time . . . He gave me inappropriate hugs. He put his hands on me, he ogled me. I would not get in an elevator with him. If members were having dinner and he was going to be there, I stopped going.” Another former reporter said Uresti “put his tongue down my throat” without her consent after they went out for happy hour drinks. Uresti denied the allegations to the Daily Beast; Miles’s office did not return requests for comment.

Go read the whole thing. It’s clear these two are not the only offenders – Wendy Davis mentions but does not name a Republican legislator who groped her at the Capitol, and there are strong implications that there are many horror stories about lobbyists to be told, all just for starters – but for now we must reckon with Sens. Miles and Uresti. The fact that this story came out on the same day that US Senator Al Franken announced his resignation in response to allegations that were not as harrowing as the ones made here should not be lost on us. I’ve known Sen. Miles since he first ran for the Lege in 2006 against Al Edwards. I’ve never met Sen. Uresti, but I was glad to see him defeat the late Frank Madla in 2006. Both of them were improvements over the incumbents they ousted, and both have done good work in Austin. But both of them need to be held accountable for their actions. Both of them need to resign, and the sooner the better.

It brings me no joy to say any of this, but here we are. There are no excuses or justifications for their actions. It’s an eternal stain on all of us that the system in place at the Capitol allowed this sort of behavior – which, again, is very much not limited to Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti – with no consequences for anyone but the victims. Resigning won’t undo what has been done and it won’t give justice to those that Miles and Uresti are alleged to have harassed and assaulted, but it will at least be a small step in the direction of bringing those days and those ways to an end. We as Democrats and as decent human beings have a responsibility to the people our officials represent and to ourselves to lead the way on changing behavior. If it grates on Sens. Miles and Uresti, as it did on Sen. Franklin, that they are being pushed out when the likes of Donald Trump and Roy Moore and Blake Farenthold seem to be getting a pass, I understand. That is indeed an injustice. But this is what I have the power to affect right now.

Of course, nobody really cares what some guy on the Internet thinks. For the right thing to happen, Democratic elected officials and other high profile individuals must act as well. Annie’s List got the ball rolling by urging the two Senators to resign. Others need to follow their lead. The people who are peers and colleagues and donors and other influencers of Sens. Miles and Uresti need to use that influence and give the same message to them. Their behavior was completely unacceptable. They need to step down. And note that on a practical level, neither is on the ballot this year, so simply not filing for re-election in 2020 isn’t enough. The right answer is to step down now, so successors can be elected in time for the beginning of the 2019 session. Both Miles and Uresti have since put out statements denying the allegations, so this isn’t going to happen without a fight. It’s ugly and it’s discouraging, but there’s no other choice.

Lege updates sexual harassment policy

Good, and about time.

Rep. Donna Howard

Members of the Texas House approved a new sexual harassment policy Friday with significant changes, including language strengthening protections against retaliation and specific steps for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The revised policy, which was adopted during a Friday hearing of the House Administration Committee, offers more details on the actions that could constitute sexual harassment and describes various ways victims can get help, particularly how they may pursue an internal complaint.

It comes about two weeks after The Texas Tribune detailed flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

Following the news reports, several Texas lawmakers called for reviews of sexual harassment policies at the Capitol. State Rep. Donna Howard was among a group of female lawmakers in the House who had a conference call with House officials to discuss changes to the policy.

“One of the things the women were particularly concerned about is making sure this is a policy that shows the respect that this situation deserves,” Howard, D-Austin, said at Friday’s hearing. “That it gives enough information that a person feels comfortable in knowing that if they do find themselves the subject of harassment, that they have a policy that gives them clear guidance and also gives them some certainty that there will be action taken.”

House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said the new policy would require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training by January 2018. The training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune. But Geren said House leaders would keep records of who attended the trainings — and that those records would be subject to public information laws.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the policy. It lays out what is harassment and gives examples, because in the year of our Lord twenty-freaking-seventeen some people are too dense to figure it out for themselves, and it outlines the process for how to report it. Doesn’t look like it’s all that much, but what was there before was basically nothing, so it should be a step forward. Let’s hope it helps. The Observer and the Chron have more.

Hey, remember that harassment lawsuit against Rep. Blake Farenthold?

I’m just gonna leave this right here.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

Rep. Blake Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokesman — the only known sitting member of Congress to have used a little-known congressional account to pay an accuser, people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

Lauren Greene, the Texas Republican’s former communications director, sued her boss in December 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

Greene said another Farenthold aide told her the lawmaker said he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about Greene. She also claimed that Farenthold “regularly drank to excess” and told her in February 2014 that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.”

When she complained about comments Farenthold and a male staffer made to her, Greene said the congressman improperly fired her. She filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, but the case was later dropped after both parties reached a private settlement.

No information was ever released on that agreement.

House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) told GOP lawmakers in a closed-door Friday morning meeting that only one House office in the past five years had used an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Harper said in that one instance, the settlement totaled $84,000.

[…]

Farenthold is likely to face repercussions from fellow House Republicans for using taxpayer money to settle a harassment claim. Recent reports, including in POLITICO, revealed that $17 million has been paid out quietly to settle workplace disputes.

Harper said Friday that only $360,000 of that total involved a House office.

That, however, won’t stem demands from conservatives that members who have been part of such settlements use their own personal money to reimburse the treasury.

See here, here, and here for some background. Farenthold was cleared by the Office of Congressional Ethics in October of 2015, and the lawsuit was settled the next month. If it weren’t for the current national conversation about harassment and abuse, I’m willing to bet we’d have never heard about the amount of the settlement or the source of the payment. Farenthold has filed for re-election, but after what happened to Smokey Joe Barton, you have to wonder if that could change. ThinkProgress, the Trib, and the Chron have more.

Smokey Joe will not run for re-election

Another one bites the dust.

Rep. Joe Barton

Embattled U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, announced his retirement from Congress on Thursday.

“I am very proud of my public record and the many accomplishments of my office. It has been a tremendous honor to represent the 6th District of Texas for over three decades, but now it is time to step aside and let there be a new voice.”

“I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection in 2018,” he said. “To the people of the 6th District, thank you for your support and friendship.”

Barton’s decision was first announced by The Dallas Morning News.

The decision came after a tumultuous week for the congressman, after a nude photo of Barton surfaced on social media.

The drumbeat for Barton’s exit came from local officials, including state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Tarrant County GOP Chairman Tim O’Hare.

His retirement sets off a race to replace him, a race that is all but certain to be determined in the GOP primary.

Two Republicans, perennial candidate Monte Mitchell and former Navy pilot Jake Ellzey, entered the race in recent days. As Barton’s problems mounted, a movement got underway to draft Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright, a former Barton staffer. He did not immediately return a call after Barton’s announcement.

See here and here for the background. A subsequent report about pervy text messages sent by Barton to a local Republican activist probably pushed him in the direction of this decision. I quibble with the Trib’s “all but certain to be determined in the GOP primary” characterization. I’d classify CD06 as Strong Republican, but not Safe Republican. The GOP will be a big favorite, but they can’t take this one for granted, especially in a year as bad as 2018 is threatening to be.

It should be noted that Barton is not resigning. Unless he has a further announcement to make, he’ll serve out the rest of his term. Nonetheless, the fact that he felt compelled to step down causes Think Progress to castigate national Democrats for their failure to put the same kind of pressure on Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers. It’s entirely possible there’s more to the Barton story than what we know now, just as it turned out there was more to the Franken story than what first came out, but they make a good point. At the very least, all of these incidents, and no doubt more of them to come, show just how badly Congress needs a sexual harassment policy and process in place that works for the victims.

(And just as a reminder: Donald Trump is still President, Roy Moore is likely to be elected Senator, and Clarence Thomas, who is oddly overlooked in the ongoing conversation about sexual assault and harassment, remains on the Supreme Court, having been appointed by a President who turned out to have his own gropiness issues. It’s harassment all the way down.)

As for the field in CD06, the Star-Telegram updates us:

Republican Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright — a former chief of staff and district director for Barton — said he will file to run for the 6th Congressional District, which includes most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.

[…]

Republican J.K. “Jake” Ellzey, a Texas Veterans Commission member who lives in Midlothian, also has filed to run for the post.

Several Democrats are in the race, including Ruby Faye Woolridge of Arlington, who ran against Barton in 2016; Jana Lynne Sanchez, a public relations specialist from Arlington; Levii R. Shocklee of Arlington; and John W. Duncan.

As I noted before, there are a couple of other Dems who have filed finance reports for CD06 and have campaign webpages up. On the Republican side, State Sen. Konni Burton, who is up for re-election but hasn’t filed yet, could jump over to this race. Nothing like a fleet of Congressional retirements to shake things up at the lower levels. RG Ratcliffe and Daily Kos have more.

The Lege needs a sexual harassment process

This is unacceptable.

As sexual misconduct accusations pile up against men in power across the country, interviews with more than two dozen current and former lawmakers and legislative aides indicate sexual harassment not only is pervasive at the Texas Capitol but also regularly goes unchecked. Most of those interviewed described how men at the Capitol — some of them lawmakers — engaged in a wide range of harassment, including degrading comments and gestures, groping and unwanted sexual advances.

Yet not a single formal complaint of sexual harassment has been filed in either the House or Senate since 2011, according to a review of public records and interviews with officials responsible for fielding complaints. Even though sexual harassment policies have been in place for two decades, few employees interviewed by the Tribune even knew they could file a formal complaint.

The policies themselves are outdated — both reference a state agency that no longer exists — and rely on Capitol officials with little incentive or authority to enforce them, particularly in cases of harassment by lawmakers.

“Well, you know we can’t fire them. The people get to fire them,” said Patsy Spaw, of elected officials. As the secretary of the senate, Spaw’s duties include resolving complaints in the chamber.

[…]

The House and Senate have had a sexual harassment policies since 1995. Both generally state that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and lay out basic procedures for reporting any misconduct.

The House policy directs employees to make complaints to the chair of the House Administration Committee — an influential position set by the House Speaker and currently held by Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren — or to the manager of the House payroll and personnel department. Over in the Senate, complaints would be reported to Spaw, the Senate Human Resources office or supervisors in individual offices.

But those officials have little to no authority over lawmakers who are ultimately elected by voters back home. In the Senate, a legislator could be reprimanded privately or publicly if they were found to have sexually harassed someone, Spaw said. In the House, the state Constitution gives lawmakers “the power to punish a member for disorderly conduct and, in extreme cases, to expel a member,” Jon Schnautz, the chamber’s ethics adviser, said in a statement.

Several former staffers said they would not have reported their experiences with sexual harassment to House Administration because they had no confidence that the member-led committee would be objective.

“I probably would never even have felt like that was an outlet that I could trust, but I didn’t even know that was a process that existed,” said Genevieve Cato, a former House employee who has spoken publicly about harassment at the Capitol.

Another staffer said she didn’t feel Geren’s committee was a “safe place to report that.”

Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who’s served in the House for almost two decades, refused to answer questions from the Tribune about how his committee would handle a sexual harassment complaint because, he said, the committee had not received any.

“There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any,” Geren said. “I don’t deal in ifs. When there’s one I’ll handle it. And that’s it.”

Asked if the policy needed revision, Geren said he would not further discuss the issue. “I don’t have any more comments about it,” he said.

For her part, Spaw said any complaints filed in the Senate would be taken “really seriously,” though she said a resolution would also depend on the Senate Administration Committee and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to take action.

“Each situation would be individual,” she said. “But it is a conundrum … I’m thankful I’ve not had to deal with it.”

Yeah, having Dan Patrick be in charge of resolving your sexual harassment complaint. What could possibly go wrong? I don’t know what we should be doing, but I do know what we’re doing now isn’t worth a damn. Maybe we could start by listening to Cato and others who have been speaking out about this and learn from their experience about what might have helped them at the time? Just a thought.

This story came out the next day, and credit where credit is due.

Citing “disturbing accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct” by public officials in Washington, D.C. and Texas, state Rep. Linda Koop asked the state’s Republican leadership Tuesday to develop a new protocol to protect those working in the state Capitol.

In her letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and House and Senate leaders, Koop, a Dallas Republican, raised concerns that legislative personnel were not “fully educated as to where to report misconduct or harassment.”

“These disturbing reports make me concerned for the safety of our Capitol staffers, interns, reporters, lobbyists and all those who work at the Capitol,” Koop wrote. “Many of our staff and interns are young people and may be particularly vulnerable to those in positions of power.”

It’s a start. Greg Abbott had not replied to a request for a comment from the Trib, so we don’t have any idea yet whether this will gain traction. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

The secret sexual predators of Texas politics

Come in, sit down, make yourself comfortable. Maybe a nice cup of hot tea? There now, all settled in? Good. Now steel yourselves and read this.

More than a year before the now-infamous “shitty media men” list, women in Texas’s statehouse secretly created their own online whisper network to document sexual harassment and assault in their industry.

This spreadsheet, called the “Burn Book of Bad Men,” lists 38 men, named by an unknown number of women who contributed anonymously to the document. Its accusations run the gamut from pay discrimination to creepy comments and sexual assault.

The men in the document include campaign workers, legislative staffers, and lawmakers. Some of the allegations are recent; others stretch back 20 years. Most of the women who contributed to the list and circulated it early on worked for Democrats, so most of the accused men are also Democratic officials or staffers.

More than one sexual-assault allegation on the list involves a man on a Democratic political campaign, according to women who contributed to the spreadsheet.

Excerpts of the document, but not the full list, were reviewed by The Daily Beast this week.

For years before the document existed online, this type of information “just kind of lived in whisper circles,” said Rebecca*, who started the list in the fall of 2016.

Rebecca told The Daily Beast that she worked in Texas politics for about two years before giving up and leaving the state because the political environment was “toxic and horrible.”

Sexism in the Texas state legislature is well-documented, in both vague and explicit terms.

In 2005, Republican State Sen. Craig Estes allegedly propositioned an intern at my former publication, The Texas Observer, on her first day in the Capitol. He let her know that if she needed any “adult supervision,” she was welcome to “see him in his office,” according to the magazine. The implication was clear, and it was included in the magazine’s list of notable quotes that year.

In 2013, I wrote a lengthy story about how men were—in addition to regularly making crude jokes at work—caught looking at porn on the Texas House and Senate floor. Others asked about their colleagues’ breasts during debates. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving female state legislator in Texas history, once told me a horrifying tale about a lawmaker who nicknamed her his “black mistress.”

(Depressingly, there’s a long list of similarly toxic situations in other statehouses, including in CaliforniaMassachusettsKentuckyFloridaIllinoisOregon, and Kansas.)

My story documented the misogyny of the “good ol’ boys’ club,” but it didn’t cover even a fraction of the previously unreported accusations in Rebecca’s living document.

Now go read the rest of the story, which contains a few names and a lot more personal accounts. Then go read RG Ratcliffe for a bit of historical perspective; in short, things aren’t much better now than they were thirty years ago. Keep in mind that the list in question was put together mostly by Democratic women, so there are undoubtedly a bunch of Republican stories to tell, too.

Finished reading them? Good. Now let’s talk about what we can do about it. A few thoughts:

– First and foremost, listen to women when they tell you their stories. (Actually, even before that, be the kind of person that women will trust to tell their stories.) Know what is happening and what has been happening.

– When you see or hear about stuff like this, take action to stop it. Call out the bad behavior and the men who are committing it. It won’t be easy. I know I’ve missed plenty of opportunities in my life to do this, through obliviousness or cowardice. All of us, me very much included, have to do better.

– We really can’t give a pass to anyone, even if they have done good work and otherwise fought the good fight. That’s going to be hard and painful, but it’s the only way. Everyone has to be accountable for their actions.

– Ultimately, the way to make something less of a “boys’ club” is to improve the gender balance. There’s plenty of social science research to back that up. I’m not claiming this is some kind of panacea – among other things, I’m not nearly naive enough to think that given truly equal access and opportunity, women will be any less conniving, dishonest, or generally shitty than men are. Human nature is what it is, after all. I am saying that a legislature that is closer to fifty-fifty – right now, less than twenty percent of legislators in Texas are female – will at the very least be a better place for women to work. There’s a vicious cycle at work here – we need more women involved, not just as legislators but also as staffers, political operatives, lobbyists, reporters, and so forth, but the existing hostile climate drives them away and makes it that much harder to achieve the balance we need. Maybe, just maybe, if the men who are the biggest part of the problem come to understand that their bad behavior can and will be made public, that will make it a little easier.

(Yes, I know, I wrote this whole piece without mentioning Roy Moore. I’ll have something to say about him tomorrow. For now, let’s concentrate on that mote in our own eye.)

The GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey

A lot of the stuff we talk about when we discuss Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill is business – the opposition from businesses, the political ramifications of a GOP/business schism, the economics of the bathroom bill, etc etc etc. But schools and students are a big piece of the picture here, as the lawsuit against the US Department of Education directive on student access to bathrooms and other facilities shows, and the effect of a bathroom bill on schools and students has been in the background. With that in mind, let me direct you to the GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey, for which a much more easily read executive summary is here. Let me quote a bit:

In 1999, GLSEN identified that little was known about the school experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and that LGBTQ youth were nearly absent from national studies of adolescents. We responded to this national need for data by launching the first National School Climate Survey, and we continue to meet this need for current data by conducting the study every two years. Since then, the biennial National School Climate Survey has documented the unique challenges LGBTQ students face and identified interventions that can improve school climate. The survey documents the prevalence of anti-LGBT language and victimization, such as experiences of harassment and assault in school. In addition, the survey examines school policies and practices that may contribute to negative experiences for LGBTQ students and make them feel as if they are not valued by their school communities. The survey also explores the effects that a hostile school climate may have on LGBTQ students’ educational outcomes and well-being. Finally, the survey reports on the availability and the utility of LGBT-related school resources and supports that may offset the negative effects of a hostile school climate and promote a positive learning experience. In addition to collecting this critical data every two years, we also add and adapt survey questions to respond to the changing world for LGBTQ youth. For example, in the 2015 survey we expanded upon the types of discriminatory practices we explore by including questions related to extracurricular activities, school athletics, and gender segregation in school activities. The National School Climate Survey remains one of the few studies to examine the school experiences of LGBTQ students nationally, and its results have been vital to GLSEN’s understanding of the issues that LGBTQ students face, thereby informing our ongoing work to ensure safe and affirming schools for all.

[…]

LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization because of their sexual orientation:

–Were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (62.2% vs. 20.1%);

–Had lower grade point averages (GPAs) than students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.3);

–Were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any post-secondary education (e.g., college or trade school) than those who experienced lower levels (10.0% vs. 5.2%);

–Were more likely to have been disciplined at school (54.9% vs. 32.1%); and

–Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.

LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization because of their gender expression:

–Were almost three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (59.6% vs. 20.8%);

–Had lower GPAs than students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.3);

–Were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any postsecondary education (e.g., college or trade school; 9.5% vs. 5.4%);

–Were more likely to have been disciplined at school (52.1% vs. 32.7%); and

–Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.

42.5% of LGBTQ students who reported that they did not plan to finish high school, or were not sure if they would finish, indicated that they were considering dropping out because of the harassment they faced at school.

I highlight this for three reasons. One is that we as a state and as a society put high expectations on our students, which are reflected in the never-ending and continually-increasing academic standards we demand that they meet. It is therefore on us to ensure that we are doing all we can to remove barriers to their success, of which harassment and discrimination are two of the most pernicious. Two, Dan Patrick presents his bill as a way of “protecting” children. I would challenge him and his minions to explain why this “protection” of some undefined set of children must come at the direct cost of so many other children. And three, to remind the business lobby that is now doing the hard work of opposing this travesty that it is not just about how their employees and customers are treated, but also how the children of their employees and customers are treated, or to put it another way, how their future employees and customers are treated. The Supreme Court is about to hear a case that may force the issue nationally, or it may punt it back to the states. We need to be ready to respond appropriately and compassionately.