House counsel schedules sexual harassment listening sessions

Boston Statehouse
Massachusetts State House_276543

Massachusetts State House

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE)-Saying he wants to hear directly from lawmakers and staff, House counsel James Kennedy on Tuesday informed House personnel of listening sessions planned for January where lawmakers and staff will be invited to talk about sexual harassment as part of the House’s review of its human resources policies.

In a letter Tuesday to House members and staff, Kennedy also said he has worked with outside attorneys and House human resources director Keith Johnson to complete a comprehensive human resources audit that Kennedy called “an excellent baseline by which to fully inform our review and recommendations.”

“As the individuals who comprise this institution, your input and insights into the ways in which we can improve are invaluable,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy has scheduled listening sessions for House members structured around the four floor divisions in the House, with the first division scheduled for noon Wednesday, Jan. 10 and subsequent divisions, in order, on successive Wednesdays. The noon sessions will be held in the House members’ lounge.

Listening sessions for staff will begin Thursday, Jan. 4 and run each Tuesday and Thursday, with the final session scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 30.

“I remind you once again that all employees of the House of Representatives have the right to work in an atmosphere that is free of sexual harassment and retaliation, and the House takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously,” Kennedy wrote. “I encourage anyone who has any information about any behavior that may violate the House’s sexual harassment or retaliation policy – or any behavior that otherwise poses a risk to the health, safety or welfare of any member or employee of the House of Representatives or visitor to the House – to report that information immediately.”

Kennedy wrote that he had heard from “a number of members already, and greatly appreciate the thoughtful feedback I have received thus far.” He said he was committed to meeting with “any Caucus, group of members, or individual member who wishes to do so.”

The House on Oct. 27 adopted an order (H 3983) calling for a comprehensive review of its sexual harassment policies. A final report from Kennedy is due by March 1.

The order, directing counsel to analyze “existing policies and practices designed to prevent and properly address sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace” came in response to a Boston Globe column based on interviews with a dozen women who recounted their experiences with sexual harassment in the State House.

Kennedy hired employment law experts Paul Holtzman and Jill Brenner Meixel of Krokidas & Bluestein and Martha Coakley and Jennifer Kirby of Foley Hoag to assist his office with its review of House human resources policies.

In November, state Auditor Suzanne Bump, saying state capitols in general are “unhealthy environments,” suggested the House and Senate consider professional codes to police the behavior of lawmakers.

“They have to adopt their own code of conduct and decide what they’re going to do about violations by members,” Bump told the News Service. She said, “Right now there is no forum, no forum to effectively deal with complaints against members, or lobbyists for that matter.”

The Senate Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into former Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to determine whether he broke Senate rules in connection with allegations, also outlined in the Globe, that his husband Bryon Hefner sexually assaulted three men with business before the Legislature and kissed another against his will.

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