Rep. Lawrence puts chief of staff on leave over harassment claims
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence has placed her chief of staff on administrative leave while she investigates allegations that he sexually harassed multiple former staff members.
Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat, said she would have investigated sexual harassment allegations and fired anyone “engaged in sexually harassing behavior” in her office had she been notified. But, Lawrence said in a statement, “none of the concerns brought to my attention involved allegations of sexual harassment.”
Lawrence issued the statement after several former aides told Politico that chief of staff Dwayne Duron Marshall sexually harassed them. Three unnamed former female aides told Politico they personally brought complaints to Lawrence about Marshall inappropriately touching them or commenting on their appearances.
The congresswoman recently introduced legislation that would require congressional staffers to take an online course on sexual harassment. She is a former harassment complaint investigator for the federal government. Lawrence said in a statement that the first she’d heard of any allegations against Marshall were in the report published Tuesday.
The anonymous former aides told Politico they did not use the words “sexual harassment” in their complaints to Lawrence, but they did raise concerns about Marshall’s alleged actions. The aides told Politico that Lawrence is well aware of Marshall’s conduct in the office. Some of the unnamed aides allege they told Lawrence that Marshall’s behavior was the reason they quit.
“As in any office environment, there have been occasions when employees have brought workplace concerns to my attention and those concerns were promptly addressed,” Lawrence said in a statement emailed to The Detroit News. “Had I been made aware of any concerns about sexual harassment in my office, those concerns would have been promptly investigated and appropriate disciplinary action taken, including termination of employment of any individual engaged in sexually harassing behavior.”
A source with knowledge of Marshall’s behavior told The Detroit News that Lawrence has had a difficult time retaining employees because of Marshall. That source wished to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation.
A former Lawrence staffer who wished to remain unnamed said the Marshall allegations put Lawrence’s office in a “sad situation.” The staffer would not comment on Marshall’s conduct.
Marshall has a history of financial problems, according to public records. He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Michigan’s eastern district in 1992. He has had state and federal tax liens totaling more than $85,032, in addition to multiple civil cases filed against him in Wayne County 36th District Court by landlords and the Peoples Trust Credit Union.
Marshall could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Rep. Lawrence said Tuesday she did not know if Marshall would issue a statement.
Lawrence said she wants to hear directly from current or former employees about inappropriate sexual conduct or behaviors in her office.
“These individuals can be assured that they will not be retaliated against for sharing this information,” Lawrence said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that I am just learning of these allegations by unidentified former employees for the first time. My office will nonetheless take all necessary steps to root out and address any inappropriate behavior.”
Lawrence said she will work with the House and outside independent resources to investigate and assess “the current environment of my office.”
Robert Snell of The Detroit News contributed.