A workplace harassment complaint at the Colorado Capitol prompted a committee set up four years ago by the state legislature in response to a sexual harassment scandal to meet for the first time Thursday.
The Colorado House Workplace Harassment Committee offered no hints as to the nature of the complaint — made against either a state representative or a partisan staffer in the House. The panel referred the allegation to an outside investigator for review. It’s unclear how long that probe will take.
The General Assembly formed separate House and Senate workplace harassment committees in 2019, a year after a series of sexual harassment complaints against then-Rep. Steve Lebsock exposed gaps in the legislature’s policies. State lawmakers also formed the Office of Legislative Workplace Relations to field and respond to complaints.
(Lebsock was ultimately expelled from the House in a dramatic, once-in-a-century vote.)
The panels have purview over complaints filed against representatives and partisan House staff and they meet only when they receive an allegation. The Senate committee has never convened.
The role of the committees is to work with the Office of Legislative Workplace Relations to determine whether a complaint falls within the scope of the legislature’s workplace harassment policy. If the complaint falls under the policy, then the committee directs the office to investigate the allegation or hire a third-party investigator.
The committee then uses the investigative report to determine whether the policy has been violated. If the panel finds a policy has been violated, the six members are supposed to propose corrective actions. If a state representative or senator is found to have violated the policy, an executive summary of the investigation into the complaint is made public, along with the identity of the accused lawmaker.
People who file complaints can either go through an informal process, in which their allegations are handled by leadership in the House or Senate, or through a formal process, which goes through the harassment committee.
After receiving a brief overview of its duties from Ben FitzSimons, who leads the Office of Legislative Workplace Relations, the House Workplace Harassment Committee on Thursday went into secret executive session for nearly an hour.
When it returned, the committee voted to find that the complaint was within the scope of its charge and to proceed by hiring a third-party investigator.
Also on Thursday, Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, was elected chair of the committee. Rep. Ryan Armagost, R-Berthoud, was elected vice chair.
Three Republicans and three Democrats serve on the panel.