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Review launched into state harassment policies

by Bob Watson | February 21, 2018 at 5:01 a.m. | Updated February 21, 2018 at 1:37 p.m.
Missouri Attorney General Joshua Hawley

Citing the increasing costs of discrimination cases against state government agencies, Attorney General Josh Hawley said Tuesday his office will conduct a comprehensive review of existing discrimination and harassment policies throughout state government.

In 2017 alone, Hawley's office reported last month, Missouri government's Legal Expense Fund paid more than $8 million for settlements or court awards in cases filed against the state under Missouri's Human Rights Act.

"The amount of taxpayer money spent in one year for claims of harassment and discrimination illustrates that we have a serious problem in at least some parts of our state government," Hawley told reporters during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. "Harassment and discrimination are never acceptable. They cause incalculable personal damage.

"Research indicates that victims who suffer from harassment and discrimination can suffer effects that last their entire lives."

And they can damage the workplace and "destroy any shared sense of mission or purpose," Hawley said.

The attorney general said his review would "identify best-practices, based on successful approaches taken in public and private sectors, and we will use those best-practices to provide candid feedback to government entities regarding their existing policies."

The Kansas City-based Women's Foundation will help Hawley's staff with the review process.

Wendy Doyle, the foundation's president and CEO, said: "We have a real commitment to reducing barriers for women to be productive in the workplace.

"We see this as a great step for Missouri for the public and private sectors."

Although "Women" is in the foundation's name, Doyle said, their work is gender-neutral.

"This work applies to both women and men," she said. "We should be protecting both women and men - and that is what these policies and guideposts are outlined for."

Hawley said the most obvious pattern shown by last year's Legal Expense Fund report is the number of cases has continued to grow for at least a decade, with "a significant spike" in the number of case - with more than 100 cases currently pending.

It's clear, he said, "steps need to be taken to reduce harassment, discrimination (and) retaliation across state government. To be frank, in some areas of state government, I think the report makes clear that a culture of discrimination and harassment has been allowed to fester.

"This has been the result of many years of neglect perhaps, or other actions that should have been taken but have not been."

Hawley said he already is collecting information from various state agencies about their current policies and already is working to make improvements in the attorney general's office policies.

"As the chief legal officer (and) law enforcement officer of the state, I think I have a responsibility to ensure that we're doing all we can to see that anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies are being enforced where they currently exist," Hawley said, "and where they need to be modified, in suggesting areas where they can be modified."


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