State lawmaker cleared of wrongdoing in alleged groping incident at UMass 

  • STATE REP. LINDSAY SABADOSA, D-Northampton 

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2019 12:15:35 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A veteran legislator accused of a sexual assault, in which he allegedly grabbed the backside of an incoming female lawmaker at a December training event for new members on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus, has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

State Rep. Paul McMurtry, D-Dedham, was named chairman of the Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, shortly after the House of Representatives’ Special Committee on Professional Conduct issued a 17-page final report that unanimously recommended that no action be taken against him. The position was being held open for McMurtry pending the results of the investigation.

For state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, the process of investigation, which was done within the confines of the legislative body and not independent of it, continues to illustrate the importance of legislation she filed in January, with State Sen. Becca Rausche, D-Needham, to strengthen the ways sexual assault and harassment are addressed.

“The fact that, as reported, the victim did not choose to speak to the investigators underscores the need for an independent process, which this legislation creates,” Sabadosa wrote in an email Thursday. “I found the sustained applause for McMurtry to be disturbing if the House is truly interested in creating an environment in which survivors feel safe to report.”

Sabadosa and Rausche’s bill, an Act Promoting Equality and Respect in the Legislature, “creates a commission on workplace harassment and sexual assault to investigate and report on complaints of sexual misconduct and intersectional, identity-based discrimination.”

The investigation into McMurtry began after House leaders got reports that he “inappropriately touched the backside of a female Representative-elect” at the Made in Massachusetts cocktail party at the Old Chapel on the Amherst campus, an event that was part of the three-day training for new lawmakers.

Made up of five Democrats and two Republicans appointed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Minority Leader Brad Jones, the commission’s conclusion came after 19 in-person interviews and review of 40 hours of video footage and other materials to determine whether there was any violation of House Rule 88, which defines sexual harassment as “conduct that, if unwelcome, and depending upon the totality of the circumstances, including the severity of the conduct and its pervasiveness, may constitute sexual harassment.”

The video footage showed McMurtry passing behind the woman and all evidence pointed to what was seen as being “consistent with an accidental touch rather than an intentional grab,” according to the report.

“On balance, the totality of the evidence before the Committee supports a finding that, if any contact occurred between Representative McMurtry and the Alleged Recipient, that contact was accidental or incidental rather than intentional,” the report states.

During the investigation, the commission was assisted by Cynthia Farquhar of EEO Solutions, Inc., acting as the part-time equal employment officer for the House of Representatives, since a full-time equal-employment officer has not been found, despite multiple postings.

The report also notes that the alleged victim did not participate in the investigation and also did not make a complaint to the committee or House leaders prior to the investigation being launched.

Sabadosa said it is unfortunate that this view is embedded in the report because it may indicate that a victim is not always to be believed.

“While the report claims the survivor did not react in a way that the investigator would have expected, as a woman in the State House, given the culture I have observed, this is exactly how I would have expected a survivor to behave, and we must do better to make people feel safe,” Sabadosa said.

DeLeo’s office issued a statement that he is proud to have McMurtry serve as chairman of the tourism committee.

“The finding of the Special Committee confirms what I’ve always known about Paul McMurtry,” DeLeo said. “He is an honorable, decent public servant with whom I’m proud to serve.”

Part of the reasoning Sabadosa has given for her legislation is so that more independence occurs with future investigations.

“It is impossible for the Statehouse to pass legislation protecting the residents of Massachusetts from sexual assault and harassment if we cannot protect our legislators and aides from it,” Sabadosa said.

Sabadosa and Rausche’s bill is similar to one from a previous session that sought to have a nine-member commission to investigate claims of harassment from employees or interns of the Legislature.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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