Bredesen handling of 2005 sexual harassment cases resurrected

With Phil Bredesen’s entry into the U.S. Senate campaign at a time of considerable attention to sexual harassment involving politicians, a couple of political blogs suggest that two 2005 episodes during Bredesen’s tenure as governor could become an issue in his current campaign.

The Daily Caller does so rather bluntly under the headline, Top Dem In Tennessee Senate Race Probably Won’t Be For Much Longer. The Washington Free Beacon’s similar article (published first) is under a headline declaring: Top Dem in Tennessee Senate Race Has Record of Covering Up Sexual Assault Allegations.

Within the state, the politically right-wing Tennessee Star quotes from both, declaring “two major national press organizations published major investigative stories” on the matter while noting that mainstream media in the state has not yet recycled the 2005 allegations in a Senate campaign context.

The cited situations involve two Bredesen cabinet members who lost their jobs after reports of misdeeds including sexual harassment – Mack Cooper, who held the title “senior advisor for legislation and policy” (basically meaning he was the administration’s top lobbyist at the legislature) and Corrections Commissioner Quenton White, a former U.S. Attorney for Middle Tennessee.

(Note: Cooper is now a respected contract lobbyist, mostly for business organizations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. White lost his license to practice law in 2016 after complaints alleging he misappropriated client funds and otherwise dealt inappropriately with clients.)

Excerpt from the Daily Caller:

 Reporters were unable to unearth any details about the claim (against Cooper) because state investigators shredded all of their notes.

“There’s nothing to be covered up here,” Bredesen told the Associated Press. “I don’t have any way of proving that to you.”

Two months after Cooper’s suspension, another Bredesen appointee, Quentin White, resigned from his post as commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Corrections amid sexual harassment allegations and questions about his handling of a sexual harassment case against his assistant.

Bredesen confirmed that White had in fact been accused one year before his suspension but insisted investigators were unable to corroborate the allegation. He was unable to prove the probe yielded no corroborating evidence because the top investigator shredded her notes and produced no written report detailing the investigation.

Both the AP and The Tennessean conducted investigations and determined that Bredesen’s administration treated sexual harassment claims against political appointees differently than those against low level state employees.

“In a review last year of 602 workplace harassment case files across all levels of state government, the AP reported that documents were shredded only in high-profile cases,” the AP found.

Following the investigations Bredesen ordered his administration to stop shredding investigative documents and instructed investigators to address all claims the same regardless of the alleged perpetrator’s title.

Bredesen attributed the disparate approaches in addressing workplace harassment claims not to the involvement of the Governor’s office but instead to the difference between civil and executive employees.

“Where executive service employees are involved, they are hired and fired at-will so the need for the documentation is not there,” he said in July 2005.

He further conceded that sexual harassment is an issue within state government but disputed that the problem was particularly prevalent within his office.

“Anytime you mix men and women together in a work environment there’s going to be issues,” he said.

Bredesen’s campaign did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment in time for publication.

Note: A Tennessean story on the Cooper and White cases from back in 2005 can be found HERE.

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