ANNAPOLIS — Six people, including four lawmakers, were accused of workplace violations such as sexual harassment or racial discrimination over the last year, according to a new report sent to the General Assembly Friday.
More than 80 percent of participants in a workplace study conducted by the Department of Legislative Services said they had not heard or witnessed harassment or discrimination. But 70 percent of those surveyed said they either didn’t know or didn’t believe that such complaints were resolved fairly or quickly.
This is the second year for such a report since the General Assembly adopted new disclosure rules related to harassment and discrimination complaints in December 2017.
In the first report released in late 2018, there were 11 sexual harassment complaints made against members of the Maryland General Assembly to the legislature’s human resources manager.
Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery and a member of the Legislative Policy Committee, Friday said the relatively low number of reports was a positive but cautioned that many who are subjected to sexual or other forms of harassment are frequently too scared to come forward.
“It’s always underreported because people are not comfortable,” said Dumais. “I think the climate survey is indicative of the fact that people don’t know what happens when they do file a complaint. So that’s clearly an area that we need to work on, and I think that would go a long way to help people feel more comfortable in reporting.”
Dumais said many employees understand there is a reporting process but there is a mystery surrounding who investigates those reports and what happens after that.
“I think we need to do a better job clarifying what the process is,” she said.sss
In addition to the four lawmakers, two other nonlegislative employees were reported for allegations, including race and sex and gender discrimination, sexual harassment and other violations.
“I think the fact that there aren’t that many complains is good, but what I am also hearing is that we need to be sure people know it’s an effective reporting process,” said Dumais. “Does that mean it’s not happening? I don’t know.”
Cases could have had multiple allegations and dispositions, according to Lori Mathis, director of the legislature’s office of operations and support services.
In cases involving lawmakers, one was referred to counseling either with a presiding officer or human resources staff. Another incident was referred to the legislature’s ethics committee and another to law enforcement for criminal investigation.
Lawmakers are not identified by name in the report of aggregated complaints.
Two cases in the reporting period resulted in action being taken by the General Assembly.
Last year the legislature meted out discipline to two of its own: Dels. Mary Ann Lisanti and Hasan “Jay” Jalisi, Democrats from Harford and Baltimore counties, respectively.
Lisanti was censured and stripped of her leadership and committee assignments last year after she was accused of using a racial slur to describe a legislative district in Prince George’s County.
She has since been reassigned to a new committee for the 2020 session.
Jalisi was reprimanded by the legislature after a 16-page report was issued by the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee. That report highlighted five years of incidents of bullying and other behaviors directed at his staff and others dating back to Jalisi’s first year in office andultiple attempts to get the delegate to change his ways.
As a result, Jalisi, who is now running for Congress to fill the vacancy created by the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings, was ordered to not hire legislative staff until he completed anger management counseling.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones said Jalisi did complete the mandated counseling and is allowed to hire legislative staff for the 2020 session.
Jalisi faces a lawsuit filed by an aide hired in 2019 who was one who complained of mistreatment. The lawsuit alleges that the delegate knowingly hired him when he was prohibited from hiring staff and failed to pay him for his work.
“There’s always room for improvement and these are always such tough, very subjective determinations,” said Dumais. “Having the discussions that we started last year and will continue is really what I think will make a difference.”