Rep. Fajardo: Culture of harassment in the Roundhouse must end

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Editor’s note: State Rep. Kelly Fajardo, a Republican from Los Lunas, sent this letter to legislative leaders late last week. In a news release, she said she has “been struggling with how to address the growing, vocal concerns and stories of widespread sexual harassment in our society, in our work places, and yes, in New Mexico political spheres.”

“As more and more stories and experiences surface, I still do not believe we are doing enough,” Fajardo said. “Please read the letter I just sent to our NM Legislature leadership, and if you agree, I welcome you to share. Your voice matters.”

Here’s Fajardo’s letter:

Dear Senate President Pro Tempore Papen, Senate Majority Leader Wirth, Senate Minority Leader Ingle, Speaker Egolf, House Majority Leader Stapleton, and House Minority Leader Gentry,

We are experiencing a cultural shift regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. Due to recent events, women and men are standing up, sharing their stories, and demanding accountability.

Kelly Fajardo

Courtesy photo

Kelly Fajardo

New Mexicans have added their voices to this global discussion. Already we have seen calls for a member of this body, Sen. Michael Padilla, to remove himself from the Democrat primary contest for the Lieutenant Governor’s position due to allegations about his past workplace conduct.

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Wirth announced the Legislature would require mandatory sexual harassment training for legislators before the 2018 session. Sen. Wirth also stated that the Legislature would be conducting a review of the Legislature’s no harassment policy adopted in 2008.

Training is not enough, and mandating training for only legislators is a minimal gesture at best. If you are to mandate training, I urge you to expand the requirement to include all session staff. I also ask that you make it available to lobbyists and other individuals who frequently interact with the Legislature during the session. The training must include information on reporting harassment as well as support resources available to individuals who feel they have been violated.

Further, I encourage you not just to review the current no harassment policy but overhaul it in its entirety. The complaint process contained in the current policy is a joke. First, it only applies to employees of Legislature. However, female lobbyists are frequent targets of harassment, and they have no protection or recourse under the current policy.

Second, the complaint process provides little practical assurance of impartiality or effective enforcement. The policy states that complaints may be submitted to agency directors or the chief clerk, positions that are handpicked by Legislative leadership. Although the policy states complaints will be investigated with impartiality, I can understand why individuals would be reluctant to submit complaints to these positions given the structure and dynamics of the Legislature. Also, I doubt these offices have the capacity or the skills in-house to conduct such investigations. They simply do not have the experience or the human resources needed to handle these types of inquiries.

Third, I believe that, as written, the policy may serve to deter reports of harassment. A full one-third of the complaint procedure is dedicated to discussing the consequences of a false report. I agree that sexual harassment complaints should never be weaponized to inflict political damage. Submitting false claims of sexual harassment harms all victims of harassment and minimizes the very serious issue of workplace hostility. However, I feel the current policy has erred too far on the side of complaint deterrence, and it discourages individuals from raising genuine issues of harassment for fear of being penalized should the powers-that-be decide no harassment took place.

This point leads to my fourth criticism of the current no harassment policy: the no retaliation provision. At only one sentence in length, the provision offers little comfort to complainants that they will be protected from retaliatory acts. It does not even describe what constitutes retaliation or how the provision will be enforced.

In your review of the Legislature’s no harassment policy, I ask that you consider the following:

  • Expanding the policy to protect lobbyists, vendors, visitors, or other outside parties. Under the current policy, complaints may be made against these individuals, but they are not protected by the no harassment policy themselves.
  • Independent review and investigation of complaints. In 2018, voters will decide on the establishment of an independent ethics commission, and if adopted, I feel that body would be the appropriate venue for reviewing harassment complaints. Until then, I encourage the Legislature to engage outside counsel in investigating such complaints.
  • Prompt review of complaints within 30 days.
  • Consider providing mediation to resolve disputes and complaints.
  • Require mandatory counseling to those accused of violating the no harassment policy.
  • Expanding training to include lobbyists and vendors. Also, consider making the training available to visitors and other outside parties.
  • Strengthen no retaliation protections. The current no retaliation provision is toothless and unenforceable.
  • Periodically survey staff, lobbyists, and vendors to determine the effectiveness of the policy and identify opportunities for improvement.

During my five years as a state representative, I have personally experienced harassment in the Roundhouse. I have also witnessed instances of harassment where colleagues and lobbyists have been subject to repeated profane comments and innuendo. I heard stories of sickening quid pro quo propositions where legislators offered political support in exchange for sexual favors. Tolerating this behavior is seen as the price of doing business in the Roundhouse, especially for women.

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The instances I am describing were not one-time misunderstandings, awkward compliments, or attempts at humor gone awry. It is possible to distinguish malfeasant action from innocuous banter, and it is important to make that distinction. No, the incidents I cite rose to a different level; they were deliberate, often serial, offensive actions intended to intimidate, humiliate, or coerce.

The current policy does not go far enough in protecting the women and men who work in our state’s Capitol from abusive behavior. It serves as a legal fig leaf to fill the requirement of having a policy, but it does not hold harassers accountable.

The previous “anything-goes” culture of the Roundhouse must end now. Mandating training is pointless without a strong, enforceable policy in place to protect everyone who visits Legislature. I appreciate your desire to improve the current policy. I urge you to move swiftly to show that you take this issue of sexual harassment seriously. The eyes of New Mexico are on you.

Sincerely,

Kelly Fajardo
State Representative
District 7

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