Commission would investigate sexual harassment claims in the State House


For the Gazette
Published: 11/19/2019 11:01:11 PM

BOSTON — Women in the State House are working toward establishing equality as legislators and creating a more safe and respectful environment on Beacon Hill that often includes workplace harassment, according to lawmakers.

A bill filed by state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, and state Sen. Rebecca Rausch, D-Needham, would create an independent commission that would investigate and respond to claims of sexual harassment.

Both Sabadosa and Rausch testified at a hearing held by the Legislature’s Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Tuesday, along with other women in local and state politics.

Sabadosa said in her testimony that workplace harassment and sexual assault, including unwelcome sexual advances, are far too common in the State House.

“The goal of this bill is to make people feel safe and comfortable when they need to file a report,” she said.

The 13-person commission, as outlined by H. 3572, would consist of professionals experienced in workplace harassment training, including a social worker and sexual assault counselor.

Rausch said that as a legislator, she should not receive allegations of assault about or from her colleagues. She testified it is often difficult to investigate fellow lawmakers over reports of harassment.

“This legislation is not about any particular person or any particular allegation,” Rausch said. “This bill is about the process.”

The commission would be available to anyone who works in the State House including interns, advocates and lobbyists. Rausch said the current system to report sexual allegations does not provide a safe space for victims to speak freely.

“The investigatory process does not work unless witnesses feel safe and secure in providing open and honest testimony,” she said.

Michelle Mullet, who recently launched her campaign as a state representative in the district that includes Lynnfield and Middleton, the seat held by House Minority Leader Brad Jones of North Reading, also testified at the hearing Tuesday.

Women are “tired of being treated as second-class citizens and outsiders in their own workplaces, ”Mullet said.

She said that in an office environment, women face patriarchal systems that silence and dismiss them.

“Today, we say that’s enough,” she said. “We won’t be silenced; we won’t be talked over or interrupted or ignored or dismissed simply because we are women.”

Mullet said she supports a system, like the one created by the bill, that stands against misogyny and allows people to speak without fear of intimidation.

She also said in an interview that she especially stands in solidarity with women of color on the issue. Women make up 28.5 percent of the Massachusetts Legislature, while women of color represent a smaller percentage.

“When you are in that tiny minority, you don’t have a voice, and you don’t have any power,” Mullet said.

Reports filed to the commission will be kept confidential, but will not prevent people making claims from pursuing other legal options, including filing with equal employment groups.

Nichole Mossalam, who works in political advocacy, described herself as a survivor of sexual harassment. Mossalam, 36, said her perpetrator did not face any consequences.

“We should not be turning a blind eye to what’s happening in the halls of our government,” she said.

During her testimony, she emphasized the importance of having a third-party group like the commission investigate claims of harassment.

“Let yourselves be leaders in the country because with someone like (Supreme Court Justice Brett) Kavanaugh, it’s time to take a stand,” she said, addressing committee members.

Rausch said that workplace harassment is by no means a thing of the past, and urged members of the committee to pass the legislation. 

“The Legislature should be a model for the entire commonwealth about protocols for addressing issues when they arise.”

Noor Adatia writes for the Gazette from the Boston University Statehouse Program. 

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