Arizona House launches sexual harassment investigations

Posted: Updated:
The Arizona House is investigating allegations of sexual harassment at the Legislature. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Arizona House is investigating allegations of sexual harassment at the Legislature. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard announced the investigations on Wednesday. (Source: Facebook) House Speaker J.D. Mesnard announced the investigations on Wednesday. (Source: Facebook)
Ugenti-Rita said Rep. Don Shooter of Yuma harassed her. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Ugenti-Rita said Rep. Don Shooter of Yuma harassed her. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Shooter issued a second statement saying he withdraws the apology and denies Ugenti-Rita's allegations. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Shooter issued a second statement saying he withdraws the apology and denies Ugenti-Rita's allegations. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (AP) -

The Arizona House is investigating allegations of sexual harassment at the Legislature, including a Scottsdale lawmaker's assertion that another member of the chamber told her he wanted to have a romantic relationship with her.

The investigations announced Wednesday by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard will examine harassment allegations made by Reps. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale and Kelly Townsend of Mesa, said Matthew Specht, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus.

[READ MORE: Powerful lawmaker accused of sexual harassment at AZ State Capitol]

"All allegations of sexual harassment will be taken seriously in the House," Mesnard said in a statement.

The response to sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo social-media movement has spread to statehouses across the country.

[RELATED: Social media responds to #MeToo with #IBelieveYou]

Nearly three weeks ago, Ugenti-Rita revealed in a social media post that she encountered sexual harassment at the Legislature soon after taking office in early 2011, but didn't reveal who allegedly harassed her. In an interview aired Tuesday, Ugenti-Rita said Rep. Don Shooter of Yuma harassed her.

[ONLINE: Michelle Ugenti-Rita's Facebook post about sexual harassment]

Shooter initially apologized in a statement, saying he "apparently said things that were insensitive and not taken well." But Shooter later issued another statement saying he withdraws the apology and denies Ugenti-Rita's allegations.

[READ MORE: Arizona lawmaker cites sexual harassment by male colleagues]

Shooter didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon.

Townsend issued a statement Wednesday saying she been on the "receiving end of both unwanted sexual advances by more than one person as well as intimidating behavior and retaliation by another in a position of power" in the past.

Townsend, who didn't immediately return a call Wednesday afternoon from The AP, didn't reveal who had allegedly harassed her. Her statement said two House leaders were able to correct the situation.

Two weeks after Ugenti-Rita first made the allegations, the Arizona House issued a written harassment policy. Under the new policy, a House member experiencing harassment can report it to the chamber's attorney or the chiefs of staff from either party.

Gov. Doug Ducey issued a statement saying he supported Mesnard's decision to launch the investigations.

"There can be absolutely no tolerance for sexual harassment in the halls of our state Capitol, or any other organization - private or public," Ducey said.

Full statement from Gov. Ducey:

“I am in full support of Speaker Mesnard’s decision to thoroughly investigate any and all reports of sexual harassment in the Legislature. This process should be bipartisan and expanded if more information is brought forward. There can be absolutely no tolerance for sexual harassment in the halls of our state Capitol, or any other organization — private or public."

Full statement from House Democratic Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix,:

“These allegations are very serious. We are calling on the Speaker and House Leadership to convene a bi-partisan investigation team that will thoroughly investigate these allegations, as well as hear the concerns of other people about their own experiences with Rep. Shooter. The investigation must allow everyone impacted to feel comfortable and safe in coming forward with information without fear of reprisal. We look forward to participating in that process and in working with the Speaker on continuing to create a safe and productive workplace.” 

Full statement from Speaker Mesnard:

“All allegations of sexual harassment will be taken seriously in the House,” said Speaker Mesnard.  “The House has a formal policy in place to investigate and remedy reports of sexual harassment, and we will be utilizing that process. A bipartisan team of investigators will be conducting thorough reviews of all allegations made and will expand their investigations if more information is gathered.”
“Those of us in government should be held to the highest standard, and any form of harassment will not be tolerated. I encourage anyone – whether it be legislators, staff, lobbyists, or others – with allegations of sexual harassment at the Legislature to work with investigators.”

Full statement from Townsend:

"I am concerned about the accusation of sexual harassment by Don Shooter, and can state that I am not a witness to this behavior toward Michelle Ugenti-Rita by Mr. Shooter. I am concerned, however, that although there is a policy in place for addressing harassment, that it could definitely be fortified and made better in an effort to prevent such behavior, and for that reason I have opened a bill folder in anticipation of placing into statute language that codifies this fortified policy." 
Townsend continued, "I personally have witnessed sexist comments and maltreatment of Ms. Ugenti-Rita (not by Mr. Shooter) in the past and have also been on the receiving end of both unwanted sexual advances by more than one person as well as intimidating behavior and retaliation by another in a position of power in years passed." Townsend said further, "I was able to handle one such situation, yet had to escalate a second, to where the current Speaker and Majority leader were able to correct the situation without further incident. Because we have a unique work environment and no HR department to turn to, we must rely on our peers to address the problem, along with staff hired by our peers. Although I commend our speaker for addressing the issue, we we'll only have him through this next year. There is no assurance that future leadership would be as proactive. The policy needs to be codified."

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