Senate spent $269K on sex harassment complaints

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Senate paid $269,000 to investigate and settle sexual harassment complaints from 2000 to 2007, according to the state’s upper legislative chamber.

Senate Business Office Director Jordan Hankwitz disclosed the dollar amount to The Detroit News Thursday but did not offer up any additional information regarding how many sexual harassment allegations involving senators or Senate staff during the past two decades.

Past state spending on sexual harassment investigations and settlements did not involve any of the current 38 senators or their staffers, said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof spokeswoman Amber McCann.

The Legislature is not subject to open records requests, but the information was voluntarily provided.

McCann also declined to offer any more details on whether former senators or Senate staffers were accused of sexual misconduct. Meekhof, a West Olive Republican, wants to protect the confidentiality of those who file complaints so victims “feel safe and secure and free to voice their concerns,” she said.

McCann would not say if any past settlements involved complaints against former senators. But she said an additional $7,500 was spent after 2007 to investigate a gender discrimination complaint that was found to be without merit.

“It is about making sure that staff and even the members feel secure if they feel that they’ve been victimized and that they can confidentially report that,” McCann said.

“I think it’s fair to also remember … the Legislature is a fairly large organization in terms of structure, so to assume that it is a member of the Legislature that might have been accused of harassment and that it’s not possible that it might also have been a staff person is unfair, I think, and I’m not suggesting it is one way or another,” she continued.

A formal sexual harassment complaint was made against former Democratic former state Rep. Brian Banks of Harper Woods. Banks represented the House’s heavily Democratic 1st District in Wayne County, which includes parts of northeast Detroit, Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Shores.

Banks resigned last year in a plea deal stemming from separate charges related to bank loan fraud in 2010.

The House paid $11,950 in 2015 to settle a lawsuit against Banks, who was accused of firing a staffer after the employee said he declined the former lawmaker’s sexual advances. A former aide, Tramaine Cotton, sued Banks in May 2013 alleging that he was fired for rejecting Banks’ advances.

After a lengthy legal proceeding, the House spent $85,622.58 on attorneys to defend its termination of Cotton, who worked for Banks during the legislator’s first few months in office in 2013.

In December, former U.S. Rep. John Conyers — the Detroit Democrat who was then the longest-serving current member of Congress — retired amid a string of sexual harassment accusations by former female staffers.