Lawmakers joke, cite female attire in harassment training
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Tennessee House members and staffers gathered Wednesday for their first-ever in-person training on sexual harassment, one female lawmaker said women should mind how they dress and a male lawmaker jokingly said a male colleague was harassing him.
According to The Tennessean , Rep. Courtney Rogers, a Goodlettsville Republican, said women need to be mindful of the possibility of harassment if they wear provocative clothing and have a “responsibility” to maintain their decorum.
“I’ve had female lobbyists walk into my office dressed in such a manner that I had to fight the urge to laugh,” said Rogers, who added that she has the same issue with some younger interns.
Sharon Roberson, the YWCA CEO who led the training, responded by saying state and federal government agencies that enforce harassment law disagree with Rogers’ statement on provocative clothing.
“That whole mindset is the culture that we have to change,” Roberson said.
Before the presentation began, Democratic Rep. Joe Towns of Memphis jokingly said he was being harassed. He pointed at Rep. John Mark Windle, a Livingston Democrat, and asked for him to be moved.
The required training by YWCA Nashville and Middle Tennessee comes after Rep. Jeremy Durham was expelled over sexual misconduct allegations in September 2016. A state attorney general investigation accused Durham of inappropriate sexual contact with at least 22 women.
Rogers was one of two House lawmakers not to vote for Durham to be expelled.
Additionally, Rep. Mark Lovell resigned over allegations in February.
Wednesday marked the House’s first in-person training, though some House staffers instead attended training last year. The Senate members and staff have to watch a video this year. Last year, in what was then a first for Tennessee, lawmakers and staff from both houses watched a 15-minute video.
Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, kicked off the House’s training Wednesday by noting key elements of the legislature’s new sexual harassment policy, which was adopted in July 2016.
Under the new policy, anyone with personal knowledge of inappropriate conduct who doesn’t report it could possibly be violating the policy, Ridley said.
“That’s a big change for us,” Ridley said. “That’s a very expansion of this policy and again something that we think will really help to protect the people that are here.”
Roberson said the fact that lawmakers were undergoing the training meant they were taking the issue seriously.
“We have to make a cultural change in order for this body to move forward and take care of the business that they’re here to take care of,” Roberson said.