sexual harassment

Sex Week at UT-Knoxville — different this year?

The University of Tennessee’s controversial Sex Week, which got underway Sunday, may have started as a way to address sexual assaults on campus and more traditional issues around sexuality, but this year the event is tackling an even broader range of issues, reports the News Sentinel.

A somewhat contrasting report of the Sex Week events is offered by Tennessee Star. Excerpts from both follow.

From the KNS:

Continue reading

Mark Lovell’s night on the legislative reception circuit

The Tennessean has a lengthy review of Mark Lovell’s activities leading up to his resignation from the legislature amind allegations that he sexually harassed at least one woman on the night of Feb. 7. The “fondling” episode came after Lovell made the rounds on the legislative reception circuit and, by several accounts, became intoxicated. An excerpt:

On the night in question, there were at least five formal receptions. Lovell, who has longer, more coiffed hair than most lawmakers and sports a salt and pepper goatee, attended them all. The first event began before the end of the business day.

Lawmakers were invited to The Standard. It costs thousands of dollars a year to join the private club, established in 1843, and although there is a public restaurant at The Standard, a keycode is required to get into the more exclusive rooms.The soiree started at 4:30 p.m. with drinks and food paid for by AT&T and Delta Dental.

…The Tennessee Malt Beverage Association hosted lawmakers at their 14th annual “Brew Ha-Ha.” The invitation for the event, at the German-themed Gerst House near Nissan Stadium, shows a clipart image of a buxom woman holding a beer-laden tray as two figures toast in the background.

…While the food at these events tends to be mediocre, receptions at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant stand out. The Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association spent more than $17,000 at the downtown restaurant that evening, offering heavy hors d’oeuvres like barbecue and cheese plates as live music filled the air at the southern-style eatery. The bacon-wrapped asparagus was particularly delicious.

Anyone attending a different reception hosted by the Tennessee Disability Coalition had the opportunity to meet with people served by organizations including AARP Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee and the Mid-Tennessee Council of the Blind. It was at one of the swankier hotels in town, The Sheraton.

…The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents sponsored an event at the Hermitage Hotel. It’s a posh, century-old building with terracotta tiles, Tennessee marble and a painted glass skylight in the lobby that’s hosted countless lawmakers and dignitaries over the years, including serving as a headquarters for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. The hotel is across the street from Legislative Plaza.

Only the Gerst House is outside walking distance from the statehouse.

Lovell said he only had three cocktails between 4 and 9 p.m. at the receptions and afterward. “I’m less than a social drinker,” he said on the day he resigned. Others say Lovell, who is partial to Crown Royal and Coca-Cola, had many more. By 8 p.m., they say he was visibly drunk.

What happens next is disputed. The 5-foot 8-inch West Tennessean said he didn’t recall doing anything wrong at any events he attended that evening. He called the accusations of sexual impropriety “100 percent false.”

All other sources say after the legislative events that evening, the then-lawmaker grabbed a woman inappropriately while at a local establishment. He is accused of grabbing one woman’s breasts and buttocks, in addition to trying to prevent her from walking away. Several sources say he engaged in additional inappropriate touching with another woman.

Investigation finds Lovell violated sexual harassment policy

There was an investigation into allegations against former state Rep. Mark Lovell and it concluded that he violated the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, reports The Tennessean.

Although the specific accusations against Lovell are not included in the public investigative memo, the release confirms a probe did take place and the committee found Lovell guilty.

“Based upon the completed staff investigation, which included interviews with all parties, the Ethics Subcommittee finds that Representative Lovell violated the policy,” states the memo dated Friday and included in Lovell’s personnel file.

“Mr. Lovell resigned his seat as a member of the House of Representatives,” the memo reads. “Mr. Lovell has been advised to avoid all contact with the complainant and other parties involved in this complaint.”

…”Mr. Lovell is distressed by these findings, as he still stands by his statement of no wrongdoings. However, he sincerely apologizes for any actions that may have been misconstrued as harassment,” said Valerie Morris, president of Memphis-based Morris Marketing Group who Lovell hired after his resignation.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, confirmed in a statement Friday the special House subcommittee did meet and determined Lovell violated the policy. It is not immediately clear when the committee met.

…In a statement, House Speaker Beth Harwell thanked the committee for its work and hailed the state’s new sexual harassment policy.

“This finding shows that the system works. The policy put in place last year clearly defined a framework for victims to report violations and have those violations investigated professionally while protecting the victims,” Harwell said in the statement via email.

“The identity of the victim was protected, which will always be a priority. We will conduct a review of the policy in a year to determine whether any improvements can be made. It is important to me and all legislative leadership that we provide everyone with a safe environment in which excellent work can be accomplished for the state of Tennessee,” she said

Lots of legislators skipping ‘mandatory’ sexual harassment video

Many state legislators have failed to watch a 22-minute sexual harassment training video that’s said to be mandatory under recently-adopted rules, reports The Tennessean.

Records indicate as of Tuesday, 12 of 25 Democrats, or less than 50 percent, and 26 of 73 Republicans, or 35 percent, in the House have failed to watch the 22-minute video and submitted a certificate of completion.

The deadline for House lawmakers to complete the training was Jan. 31. Eleven lawmakers watched the video after the deadline passed, as of Tuesday.

Mark Lovell, who resigned Tuesday amid allegations that he was being investigated for inappropriately touching a woman last week, was among those who failed to watch the video.

House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, said Thursday he had not realized how many lawmakers had yet to watch the video.

“We’ll put out an email today saying members, this is an ask of the speaker’s office,” he said, adding that information about who had not taken the training should be made public.

… In the Senate, which has a Friday deadline, just eight Senators — seven Republicans and one Democrat —  of the chamber’s 33 lawmakers have watched the video.

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said on Wednesday Republican leadership gave explicit instructions to their caucus members to watch the video.

When asked if there would be any penalties for any Senators who fail to view the video by Friday, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said, “Well I think we’ll make sure that they watch it.”

Rep. Lovell resigns House seat; accused of ‘inappropriate sexual contact’

State Rep. Mark Lovell, a freshman Shelby County Republican who defeated veteran Rep. Curry Todd in last year’s Republican primary,  has submitted a letter of resignation from his House District 95 seat.

The Tennessean reports that the resignation comes with Lovell accused of inappropriate sexual contact with a woman last week, though he contends the accusation is “100 percent false.”

“I’m taking away from my family, I’m taking away my business and now I’ve got accusations of improperness and it’s like you know what, I just need to focus on my family and my business and I don’t need people throwing stones at me when it’s not necessary,” Lovell said in the phone call.

Lovell, R-Eads, engaged in “inappropriate touching” with one woman, (a) source said. Another person with knowledge of the situation also confirmed Lovell is under investigation for acting inappropriately toward a woman.

That statement, more or less, comports with Lovell saying in his resignation letter to House Speaker Beth Harwell, dated Tuesday, that “the time requirements to represent my constituents are more demanding than anticipated” and he doesn’t “have the time necessary to devote to my business interests and to my family.”

Further, from the Associated Press:

Lovell told WHBQ-TV in Memphis that a woman had accused him of inappropriate touching at a legislative event last week.

“The accusations are taking away from my family and my business,” he added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or not in politics.”

…The Shelby County Commission will name a temporary replacement for Lovell until a permanent successor is voted into office within 107 days of Gov. Bill Haslam issuing a writ of election.

Note: Copy of the resignation letter is available by clicking on this link: lovell

Title IX complaints increase at UT, Board of Regents

A state Comptroller’s report says the number of Title IX complaints reported at the University of Tennessee and the state Board of Regents has increased in the past year and more than doubled in the last year, reports The Tennessean.

At UT, there were 129 complaints reported system-wide in fiscal year 2016, compared to 54 in 2015 and just one in 2013. The board reported 200 complaints in fiscal year 2016, up from 174 in the previous year and 76 in 2013.  (Note: The report is HERE.)

Officials from both the Board of Regents and the university said the rise in complaints is indicative of an increase in reporting and changes in reporting requirements, as opposed to an increase in actual Title IX violations, which may include gender discrimination, sexual harassment or domestic violence between students.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Jenny Richter, Title IX coordinator for the University of Tennessee Knoxville and associate vice chancellor and director of the Office of Equity and Diversity. “We know these types of complaints are under-reported and I think the efforts made by (the Center for Health Education and Wellness) to educate our students, efforts by our faculty, by people at high administrative efforts, the training efforts we’ve made are bound to bring some focus to it.”

…The rise also coincides with a federal lawsuit against the university alleging a “hostile sexual environment” and accusing the school of mismanaging sexual assault cases. The case was settled in July for $2.48 million.

Richter said she was not surprised to see a difference in the number of complaints reported between institutions of higher education and other state entities, where no more than one complaint was reported in 2016, if at all.

As terms of the lawsuit settlement, the university was required to adopt a list of “Title IX enhancements” including adding summaries of prevention programs and training to data reports and sexual misconduct between students, ending the practice of distributing written lists of lawyers to student athletes and enhancing and and enforcing mandatory sexual assault training for UT employees. 

The university also announced plans for an independent commission to review policies and programs related to sexual misconduct and the hire of six new staff members to work on sexual assault prevention and awareness.

Many of those changes fell into place after July, while the report shows the number of complaints for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Legislature’s secret sexual harassment video reviewed by reporter

Cari Wade Gervin has a Nashville Scene review of the video that is required watching for state legislators and their staff but officially forbidden for viewing by the general public and media. Seems she simply found a staffer willing to let her watch as the video was playing. It’s reported as running 22 minutes, 56 seconds — somewhat longer than the 15 -minute length initially reported. (Previous post-HERE.)


Entitled “It’s Up to You: Stopping Sexual Harassment for Employees,” the video outlines numerous scenarios that could be considered sexual harassment or that contribute to a hostile workplace. There is no interactive quality to the video — no questions to fill out, no quiz at the end, nothing at all to ensure the person watching the video actually paid any attention whatsoever. And although the staffer we watched it with did pay attention, being a scrupulous sort of person, we have heard that many other staffers are just playing the video in the background on mute and then printing out the certificate of completion at the end. It’s also been rumored that staff are “watching” their bosses’ versions of the video for them. (There’s a separate, different video of about the same length for anyone in a management position, which obviously includes legislators.)

Here are the scenarios deemed harassing in the poorly-acted sketches:

A female supervisor propositioning a male employee in order for him to be selected to attend a conference

A man telling a woman “nice rack”

A male employee sending a female employee a sexy Photoshopped picture of her

A male repeatedly and unwantedly asking a female coworker out

Two women ogling a younger male employee

A male hotel guest employee commenting on a maid’s derriere when she bent over to pick dirty towels off the floor

A woman getting passed over for a promotion in favor of a younger, prettier woman

A woman being passed over for a promotion because she’s pregnant

A male employee saying a female employee has no business doing their job because she’s a woman

A male massaging a female employee’s hand without her permission

Two male employees harassing a gay male employee for being effeminate

A male employee asking a gay male employee whether his pink shirt makes him look gay

A woman being transferred to another job in retaliation for complaining about being sexually harassed.

House now has a sexual harassment subcommittee

A House Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Subcommittee, an arm of the House Ethics Committee, was created Thursday with the adoption of revised rules for the House, reports The Tennessean.

The four-member committee will include Reps. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis; Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville; Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountains; and Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads.

The committee’s formation coincides with the creation of a new sexual harassment policy, which was adopted last year in the aftermath of revelations from the state attorney general that expelled lawmaker Jeremy Durham had inappropriate sexual conduct with at least 22 women.

… Although any sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers will be initially investigated by the office of the Director of Legislative Administration, the new committee has powers to do its own investigation.

The committee will have the authority to “subpoena and compel the attendance of witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and require and compel the production of any documents or other items of evidence relative to any matter under investigation.”

The new committee is also able to recommend any corrective action, which would be reported to the speaker’s office. Any substantiated findings from the committee would also be added to the personnel file of the member who was the subject of the complaint.

There are a few minor differences between the subcommittee and the Ethics Committee.

Complaints of ethics violations against a member can only come from another lawmaker. Others, such as members of the public, are able to recommend the Ethics Committee to consider taking up a complaint if they suspect a lawmaker has committed some type of ethical violation.

Anyone is able to file a sexual harassment complaint against a lawmaker.

Unlike the Ethics Committee, the work of the subcommittee would be private, said legislative attorney Doug Himes.



Legislators required to watch sexual harassment video that’s not for public viewing

State legislators, staff and interns will be required to watch a 15-minute video on sexual harassment that is not being made available for public viewing, reports The Tennessean. The video will serve as training in sexual harassment that was mandated under a new policy adopted during last year’s Jeremy Durham scandal.

Connie Ridley, director of Legislative Administration, described the video “covering all aspects of the law along with examples of the types of circumstances which might create a hostile discriminatory practice.”

Ridley said the state entered a one-year contract valued at $1,295 with ATS Media, a Chicago-based company. The firm was recommended by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

…Ridley said the public and media are not able to obtain or view the training because it was “provided at a cost per person so it is only available to employees of the legislature.”

When The Tennessean offered to pay for access to the video, Ridley said the cthe legislature entered into with ATS Media provided video training for “legislative personnel only.”

…Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said legislative members will be given “supplementary material” and will be required to sign a certificate of completion once they complete their training. Harwell did not specify what type of supplemental material.

Later in the afternoon, Kara Owen, a spokeswoman for the speaker, said Harwell was referring to “what will be the ongoing efforts of ensuring members are aware of the policy, follow up and feedback from members and staff ensuring the training was successful and any materials we come across that might be relevant to our policy in the future.”

Harwell moves to revise House handling of sexual harassment charges

House Speaker Beth Harwell says she will propose changes in operations of the House Ethics Committee and move on her own to disclose the number of alleged violations of the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, reports The Tennessean.  Both moves are tied to controversy surrounding former Rep. Jeremy Durham, who was expelled from the House in September.

Right now, the House Ethics Committee can’t receive any complaints related to sexual harassment. Harwell will suggest changing the policy when lawmakers return for session in 2017.

“In January, I will propose a rule change to the House Rules Committee whereby sexual harassment violations will be heard by the Ethics Committee, while protecting the confidentiality of complainants. The Ethics Committee will be able to recommend action to the entire House. This is appropriate given that the state constitution only allows the House as a whole to discipline members,” Harwell said in a statement emailed by a spokesman.

… Harwell had to create a special committee that relied on the attorney general to investigate the allegations of sexual impropriety by Durham.

Harwell noted that the House Rules Committee and the entire body must approve of any rules change.

…Until Friday, the legislature had also refused to release the raw numbers of violations or complaints filed under the policy. After repeated questions, Harwell said Friday she will change the policy. (Note: She can change a policy – as opposed to a rule – on her own as House speaker.)

“In addition, I will be implementing a House policy change whereby the number of violations of the Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Policy are reported annually,” Harwell said in the statement.


Posts and Opinions about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.