Report on Madigan's Office Describes Culture of Bullying, Harassment - NBC Chicago
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Report on Madigan's Office Describes Culture of Bullying, Harassment

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    Report on Madigan's Office Describes Culture of Bullying, Harassment

    A new report on an investigation into Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's office paints a picture of a workplace culture of bullying and harassment in which some employees said they did not feel comfortable reporting allegations of misconduct and were made to feel "dispensable." NBC 5's Mary Ann Ahern reports.

    (Published Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019)

    A new report on an investigation into Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's office paints a picture of a workplace culture of bullying and harassment in which some employees said they did not feel comfortable reporting allegations of misconduct and were made to feel "dispensable."

    Madigan released the 202-page report Tuesday, more than a year after he retained former federal prosecutor Maggie Hickey to conduct the investigation following multiple public allegations of sexual harassment, intimidation and more.

    "I welcomed this independent review to better understand the workplace culture within the Office of the Speaker and to help improve the environment in the Capitol," Madigan said in a statement, thanking Hickey as well as the staff, lawmakers, lobbyists and others who participated in the investigation.

    "I take responsibility for not doing enough previously to prevent issues in my office, and continue to believe that we, collectively, need to do more in the Capitol to improve our workplace culture and protect the women and men who work here who want to make a difference in the world,” Madigan's statement continued.

    Over the course of the investigation, the report says Hickey interviewed more than 100 people who work at the Capitol, including more than 80 current and former members of the speaker's staff, plus more than a dozen members of the House Democratic Caucus.

    The report also drew on the review of thousands of pages of documents, including memos, personnel files, emails, social media, office policies and Illinois law, to reach its conclusions, Hickey wrote.

    Hickey, who previously served as former Gov. Bruce Rauner's inspector general and now works as an attorney in the private sector, was hired to investigate three specific claims, the report says.

    The first was that Madigan, his former chief of staff Tim Mapes and another lawmaker retaliated against Rep. Kelly Cassidy for speaking out about his office's handling of sexual harassment allegations. Second, Hickey investigated a female activist's claims that then-Rep. Lou Lang made unwanted advances towards her and bullied her once she rejected those advances. Finally, the probe explored a former Speaker's office employee's allegations that Mapes made inappropriate comments to her and failed to properly handle instances of harassment.

    The conclusions reached on each allegation varied, with Hickey ultimately issuing dozens of recommendations for improvement in areas ranging from reporting mechanisms, leadership and employee policies.

    Perhaps the most scathing allegations that surfaced in the report centered around Mapes, who declined to be interviewed for the investigation. He was Madigan's top aide for decades, serving as his chief of staff since 1992 and as the clerk of the Illinois House beginning in 2011, until his resignation last year. Mapes stepped down hours after a statehouse employee accused him of sexual harassment and bullying at a news conference in June 2018.

    Sherri Garrett, an account technician working in Madigan's office who retired six months later, said at the time that Mapes had made "repeated inappropriate comments" to her and others, as well as dismissed and ridiculed her reporting of harassment on multiple occasions.

    Several of the witnesses interviewed in Hickey's investigation expressed concern that Mapes was powerful enough to affect their employment opportunities, both within the speaker's office and beyond, the report says. Many said Mapes would often remind staff members that their employment was "at-will," which they interpreted as a tactic to intimidate.

    "Many more witnesses said that Mr. Mapes frequently yelled at male and female workers and threatened their jobs whenever they made a mistake," Hickey wrote. "Many witnesses provided their own personal stories of Mr. Mapes threatening their jobs or reminding them that they could easily be replaced. Some of the witnesses who did not have this experience said that they were told by coworkers that it was only a matter of time until they did."

    Thus, the investigation found that Mapes "had a habit of being discourteous to workers and representatives," with the report concluding that "The number of independently verified instances of Mr. Mapes’s derogatory behavior was overwhelming."

    The Associated Press reported after Mapes' departure that as a 40-year state employee, he was in line to collect a roughly $134,000 annual pension as well as a one-time payment of about $130,500 for unused vacation and sick days. He was also spotted at the Capitol during the November veto session, working as a consultant.

    Mapes was also part of Cassidy's allegation of retaliation, another claim the investigation zeroed in on.

    In an exclusive interview with NBC 5 in May 2018, Cassidy said that after speaking publicly against Madigan when allegations of harassment first surfaced in his office, Mapes called the Cook County sheriff's office, where Cassidy had a part-time job, to inquire about her employment - a move she said at the time "felt like a warning."

    Cassidy - who later resigned from the sheriff's office - said Madigan then denied her request for an unrelated meeting, which she said was a rarity, and that Rep. Bob Rita made comments to both her and the sheriff's chief of staff that Cassidy interpreted to be threats to her employment and, as she called it, "retribution."

    According to the report, Cassidy said in her interview that she did not believe the three men "conspired to retaliate against her," but instead alleged that "the culture is one in which everyone independently knows to retaliate against anyone for publicly criticizing Speaker Madigan."

    Madigan told Hickey that he directed Mapes to call the sheriff's office about Cassidy's employment, though not for any particular reason as it was "just a matter of curiosity."

    Madigan went on to say that given his "contentious relationship" with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, he did not believe the call would be interpreted as intimidating because "he did not believe that anyone would think Sheriff Dart would do any favors" for him.

    Ultimately, the report says the investigation found that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that Madigan, Mapes or Rita violated any personnel rules or ethics laws with their actions, but added that other lawmakers said they would have "felt the same" as Cassidy in her interpretation of their actions. Some legislators and staffers went on to say that they too would have interpreted Mapes' call to be a threat, and that threatening behavior like that would be "in line with his typical management style."

    "As stated in the report, my main goal was to make the negative actions towards me stop, and they did," Cassidy said in a statement Tuesday. "Others now feel safer coming forward to share their story without fear of retaliation. I am pleased overall and particularly that the Speakers’ office chose to share the full report with the public. It is the best path forward."

    Cassidy said she was "not surprised" by the results of the investigation.

    "Nothing in there was surprising and frankly, my higher goal from our first conversation about this was to make it stop," she said. "And it did."

    The third situation the investigation focused on was the May 2018 claim by activist Maryann Loncar that then-Rep. Lou Lang sexually harassed her years prior and bullied when she rejected his advances as she advocated for cannabis legislation.

    At the time, Lang called her claims "absurd," and months later, then-Inspector General Julie Porter concluded that there wasn't sufficient evident that Lang harassed or intimidated Loncar - similar to what Hickey's investigation found. Lang later resigned to take a position as a partner at a government affairs firm, days before the start of what would have been his 17th term in office.

    The investigation also broadly explored the workplace culture in Madigan's office, detailing in part a culture in which Mapes in particular "used fear to motivate people."

    The report stated that many workers across the Capitol "spoke highly" of Madigan - the longest-serving statehouse speaker in U.S. history - but noted that very few actually interacted with him.

    Noting that many longtime employees said the culture in Madigan's office "has improved over the years," the investigation did find a "general lack of respect" with "by far the most consistent criticism" being bullying.

    Some workers - male and female alike - described physical intimidation like yelling, grabbing and pushing by their perceived superiors, as well as a "hazing-like experience" for young staffers. Some described an "unspoken pressure on them to volunteer" for political campaigns out of fear of losing opportunities or their jobs.

    Many employees also said they did not feel comfortable reporting workplace issues for a myriad of reasons: because they didn't know who to report to, the situation was too political, they didn't think it would make a difference and they didn't want to risk retaliation, among others.

    On sexual harassment specifically, the report states that several female workers said that they had been"warned" about particular people to avoid "either because of their inappropriate comments, crude humor, or 'creepy' behavior."

    Some said they were also cautioned by other women in the Capitol to "take steps to avoid sexual harassment" like not drinking with lawmakers or wearing a fake wedding ring.

    The report noted that Madigan and lawmakers had made several changes over the last few years to address harassment, discrimination and the culture overall, like hosting trainings and listening sessions, creating a human resources department, passing legislation on the issue, clarifying personnel policies and more.

    "In order to move forward, you have to take a hard look back and that's what we've done here," said state Rep. Ann Williams, who was on the advisory board that selected Hickey. "It's a pretty unprecedented move to expose the inner workings of an office in such a public manner." 

    Williams called the findings "difficult to read."

    "It's hard to hear that the staff that you worked with so closely didn't feel valued and respected like the way they should," she said. 

    Hickey also provided several recommendations for improvement, like clearer job descriptions, performance evaluations and a more visible role for Madigan himself, among others. 

    "While the Office of the Speaker has taken many steps to improve and will work to adopt Ms. Hickey’s recommendations, Ms. Hickey’s report makes clear there is more to be done," Madigan's statement reads. "As part of my full commitment to change the culture, I am ready to work with the other legislative caucuses to ensure that everyone has a safe workplace."

    You can read the report in its entirety below:

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