House records released on harassment, discrimination complaints

  • 02/11/2017
House records released on harassment, discrimination complaints
COLUMBUS Ohio House leadership on Wednesday released documents showing that allegations of harassment or discrimination in state government may not have been confined to the Senate.

One Republican state representative, two Democratic representatives, and one staff member to a Republican member were investigated for allegations of harassment or discrimination, according to documents released to The Blade in response to a public records request.

State Rep. Michael Henne (R., Clayton) was disciplined by leadership in 2015 for making inappropriate comments to a female House employee. He was required to undergo sensitivity training and lost his vice chairmanship of the House Insurance Committee last session, a post he regained this session.

The investigation, however, determined that, while inappropriate, Mr. Hennes comments made at a luncheon did not create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment to qualify as sexual harassment under House policy.

State Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent (D., Columbus) was directed to undergo sensitivity training after she was accused of violating the chambers anti-harassment and discrimination policy.

A legislative aide accused the freshman representative in March of firing her for medical reasons for an unknown condition that her complaint said made it difficult for her to walk, stand, and sit.

... I did not appreciate, nor did she have the right, to dictate to me or question my decision to not only when I chose medical treatment but also where and how I chose to do so, the complaint said. Her comments were medically intrusive and unwarranted.

Rep. Stephanie Howse (D., Cleveland) was the subject of a complaint in June, 2016. She lost her position as ranking Democrat on the Community and Family Advancement Committee for the remaining six months or so of last session.

No further details were immediately provided, and the chamber said no additional public records would be forthcoming.

In May of 2016, Mark Homyak, a Columbus staff member to then-former Rep. Nan Baker (R., Westlake), was fired for engaging in inappropriate behavior found to have violated the anti-harassment policy. Hed been an employee nearly five years.

Its the position of the Ohio House that discrimination or harassment of any nature is not acceptable, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R., Clarksville) said. I have zero tolerance for it ... Weve had a few occasions where there had been an issue that we have felt that we addressed.

When asked why some members were required to undergo training or lost committee leadership slots even when a formal violation was not found, Mr. Rosenberger said, I take all these instances extremely seriously.

If there was a finding that said, hey, maybe that person wasnt guilty of something or it wasnt a violation of something, I dont think that means we just sweep it under the rug and say its all done and we go he said. Nor is it a bad to thing to, as Ive said, over-communicate.

The documents were released about two weeks after the resignation of state Sen. Cliff Hite (R., Findlay) at the urging of the Senate president following the filing of a complaint.

The senator and former member of the House resigned after admitting to and apologizing for inappropriate behavior with someone later identified to be an employee of the Legislative Service Commission.

That employees complaint alleged that Mr. Hite had repeatedly harassed her over several months, urging her to engage in a casual sexual relationship with him. Mr. Hite, however, said that, other than hugs, there was no inappropriate physical contact between them.

The actions taken against the two Democratic members were made in consultation with House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D., Dayton).
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