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Describing himself as "infuriated and deeply disturbed" about allegations of sexual harassment at the State House, the Democratic leader of the Massachusetts House on Friday ordered an immediate review of his chamber's policies on harassment and retaliation, while promising to investigate any reported incidents.
Speaker Robert DeLeo took to the House floor shortly after a column appeared in The Boston Globe that detailed a series of alleged incidents over the past two decades or so, including one in which a female lobbyist said a legislator strongly implied to her that he would vote for a bill in exchange for sex.
None of the women who spoke to the newspaper nor any of the men they accused were identified by name.
"I am infuriated and deeply disturbed to hear that a dozen women who are professionally associated with the [State House] have described being sexually harassed while here," said DeLeo. "While I understand and support their desire to remain anonymous, the fact that victims fear the consequences to their careers of reporting the harassment is as upsetting as the harassment itself."
DeLeo's order instructs House counsel to launch a comprehensive review of all policies and procedures to ensure "a workplace free of sexual harassment and retaliation," for all House members and staff.
The review also would include an evaluation of training materials provided to legislators and employees, and protocols for investigating complaints. And it would review whether victims of sexual harassment feel empowered to safely report such incidents without retaliation.
DeLeo, who has been speaker since 2009, said he has always maintained a zero tolerance policy for harassment and sought a "positive work environment" for the Legislature.
"To hear that we may have failed is deeply troubling to me," the speaker said.
Revelations of sexual harassment have emerged in several statehouses around the country in the weeks since allegations were made public against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.
The California Senate has hired a law firm to investigate after women described a culture of sexual intimidation. Lawmakers in Rhode Island and Oregon have spoken up to accuse male colleagues of inappropriate touching or suggesting that sexual favors be a condition for advancing bills.
DeLeo said he took no comfort in knowing that Massachusetts was not alone. He promised that any reported incident of harassment would be thoroughly investigated and "appropriate action" taken against offenders.
Rep. Sarah Peake, a Provincetown Democrat and member of DeLeo's leadership team, praised the speaker's focus on the fear of repercussions that cause many victims to avoid coming forward.
"All of us who work in this beautiful, this historic building, take all of this seriously," said Peake, who told reporters she had never experienced sexual harassment at the Statehouse.
Rep. Bradley Jones, the House Republican leader, offered strong support for the review ordered by DeLeo.
"Everyone deserves a safe work environment free of sexual harassment, and no one should ever fear they will be subject to retaliation for reporting unacceptable behavior by a colleague, co-worker or supervisor," said Jones.
The order asks counsel to make recommendations no later than March 1.
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