As the state Department of Corrections continues to fight the reinstatement of fired Stillwater prison warden Steve Hammer, officials sent employees a memo on the very subject that got him into trouble — sexual harassment.
Corrections officials fired Hammer, a 25-year employee, in October 2016 after an investigation found he had used his official e-mail account to send sexually explicit messages, made inappropriate comments about an intern and verbally abused employees.
A year later, a state arbitrator ruled that Hammer should be rehired because the department had failed to meet its burden of just cause. He isn’t currently employed at the prison, pending the department’s appeal of the ruling.
The recent memo on sexual harassment, sent to more than 4,300 employees in the Corrections Department last month, isn’t connected to Hammer’s return, department spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald said.
The memo begins: “In light of recent national and state news stories, along with and information received from staff, we would like to take a moment and share the position of the Department of Corrections with regard to sexual harassment and sexism.”
The one-page memo includes definitions of sexual harassment and sexism, and it states that “comments based on traditional stereotypes of one’s gender are wrong on a fundamental level.”
In its appeal, the Corrections Department argues that the arbitrator in the case erred in finding that Hammer should be rehired with back pay. The petition to the Minnesota Court of Appeals lists an incident in which several employees accused Hammer of “sexualized ogling” of a female intern who was also the daughter of his administrative assistant.
The department’s appeal stated that the arbitrator had “failed to analyze whether the [department] had just cause to terminate Hammer because his conduct resulted in the [the department’s] loss of ‘trust and confidence’ in his ability to perform the important functions of a high-ranking state official.”
Gregg Corwin, Hammer’s attorney, said Thursday that he has no doubt his client will win on the appeal, “and the [department] knows it too.”
The department’s memo on sexual harassment says that comments “about physical appearance, abilities as a professional, lack of confidence in their abilities as a professional, etc., are not acceptable and should not be tolerated by any staff member.”
It also says that directives will be applied daily “as we continue our professionalism initiative within our staff ranks.”
“Our environment is uniquely challenging for many reasons: The difficult task of offender management, harsh and stressful environments, tedious responsibilities,” the memo says. “If disrespectful behaviors are layered on top of all that, work will become a miserable non-sustainable experience for many.”
Hammer began working for Minnesota prisons in 1991 and had been disciplined twice for inappropriate relationships with staffers before his firing, according to department records.