Rutherford Responds to Sexual Harassment Suit

A former employee of Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford filed a civil lawsuit Monday against the GOP candidate for governor, alleging sexual harassment, but Rutherford says the claims are absolutely false.

Edmund Michalowski, 43, alleges in the suit that Rutherford subjected him to a "long-standing pattern of discrimination based upon his sex" from April 2011 to December 2013 that included grabbing at Michalowski's genitals and repeatedly "hitting on" him. He also claims Rutherford made offensive remarks to him and other male employees, and was behind an inappropriate text message through a staffer that asked him to wear a "tank top" to an event.

Michalowski also claims Rutherford forced him to "engage in outside political activity for the benefit of the Rutherford Committee and the Romney campaign during his working hours."

Rutherford's chief of staff Kyle Ham is also named in the suit. Michalowski says when he took his complaints to Ham, he was told "at least we have job security," and "you’re his friend, you talk to him."

Michalowski states in the suit that he served as Rutherford's deputy director of community affairs and marketing from 2011 to February 2014, when he resigned.

Attorney Christine Svenson filed the suit Monday afternoon. Last week she indicated others may file with her client, but there was no word Monday on if that’s the case.

Rutherford vehemently denied the allegations at a news conference Monday afternoon, saying the timing before the primary makes it clear that it's politically-motivated.

"I strongly deny any -- any, inappropriate conduct, regardless of the date," Rutherford said.

He said he didn't know why Michalowski is making the claims, and points out that there were no witnesses to any of the alleged sexual harassment incidents.

Rutherford's office also distributed a travel voucher showing Michalowski was traveling elsewhere on the day he claims Rutherford made unwanted advances at an overnight retreat at his home.

As for the text from a staffer asking Michalowski to wear a tank top on behalf of the treasurer, Rutherford says the texts were deliberately taken out of context.

Rutherford theorized that Michalowski made the claims because of the pressure of a recent bankruptcy, foreclosure and divorce.

He also reiterated claims that his campaign oppenent Bruce Rauner is ultimately behind the allegations, although he wasn't able to provide any proof.

"I happen to be the guy who has the most amount of money available, the most amount of money available ... I happen to be the one between him and the nomination," Rutherford said.

Rutherford's chief of staff Kyle Ham also "vehemently denies that any report was made to him about this conduct," according to the news release.

Rutherford recently alerted the media to the brewing firestorm without disclosing the substance of the allegations.

Rutherford claimed the employee's attorney asked for $300,000 as part of a severance agreement, but he said he didn't agree to it because he hasn't done anything wrong.

An independent investigation into Michalowski's claims is ongoing.

The primary election is March 18.

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