MINNEAPOLIS — A new ad from Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen accuses Democratic challenger Dean Phillips of doing nothing about a sexual harassment case brought by seven female nurses against Allina Health clinic in 2007, when Phillips served on the Allina board.
The commercial , which debuted on Twin Cities television Wednesday evening, cites a February 2007 lawsuit by the nurses, who alleged they were sexually harassed by a doctor at an Allina clinic in Richfield.
The lawsuit said that company officials knew or should have known about his conduct, which allegedly included crude comments about his body and their bodies, ogling, groping and unwelcome physical contact. It claimed that officials failed to act on the nurses' complaints and even retaliated against them.
Phillips, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, served on the board of Allina — one of Minnesota's largest nonprofit health care systems — from 2005-2011 including from 2009-2011 as chairman. The ad alleges that Phillips and the board did nothing about the doctor.
Paulsen's suburban Minneapolis district is a top target in the November election for Democrats, who need a net gain of 23 seats to take the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Allina spokesman David Kanihan said Dr. Donald Blowers left Allina in January 2007, before the lawsuit was filed, but declined to say whether he was fired or resigned. He said the company reached settlements with the nurses and took appropriate action to respond to their allegations.
The Phillips campaign denounced the ad as dishonest, saying he was not responsible as a board member for day-to-day operations at Allina.
"Congressman Paulsen is so desperate to hold onto power that he's even stooped to attacking community leaders at one of the Twin Cities' most important health systems," campaign manager Zach Rodvold said in a statement.
Paulsen's ad quoted a 2007 Star Tribune story about the nurses' lawsuit that said another doctor at the clinic complained about the offending doctor's behavior in a "letter to an Allina board member." But court files of the case don't contain the letter.
Paulsen campaign spokesman John-Paul Yates said he disagrees with Phillips' claim that he was not responsible for Allina's actions.
"Phillips himself has bragged about being chairman of Allina. Therefore his service on the board is certainly fair game, we think," he said.
Allina objected last month to an earlier Paulsen ad that tried to hold Phillips responsible for the company's actions in a 2010 labor dispute with its nurses.