MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin taxpayers have paid at least $523,000 over the last decade to settle sexual harassment complaints against state employees, newly released records show.
The documents, released to the Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in open records requests, show the sum was paid to settle at least 12 sexual harassment complaints within the Department of Corrections, the Department of Justice, the Legislature and state universities in Madison and Stevens Point, among other agencies.
The Department of Administration records showed the payments made from January 2007 to November 2017 ranged from $65,000 to $100,000 and were made through DOA's Bureau or Risk Management. It may not be a complete picture of all settlements because agencies are also able to settle claims on their own, said DOA spokesman Steve Michels.
State officials' handling of sexual harassment claims has been under scrutiny lately because of the #MeToo anti-sexual harassment movement in which women nationwide have publicly accused men in authority of harassment and sexual misconduct.
The state records showed many of the cases that ended in settlements in the last decade were brought by state employees, although one lawsuit was filed by an inmate at the state prison in Fox Lake. He alleged a guard repeatedly sexually harassed him between 2013 and 2014. The inmate received $100,000 from the state to settle the claim against the corrections officer who was fired in 2015 over the allegations.
Another settlement involved a University of Wisconsin-Madison heating plant employee who said that she faced unwanted sexual advances from the facility's superintendent and was forced to share a locker room with male co-workers, according to the documents. UW-Madison agreed to pay her $250,000 in 2008.
Two UW-Stevens Point employees were each paid $34,000 and $20,000 respectively to settle complaints that focused on sexually harassing and discriminatory behavior from a custodial supervisor in 2013.