Investigation Was Conducted by Law Firm Where Powerful Majority Leader Bill Seitz Worked for 35 Years
As Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) previously reported, soon after Ohio House Majority Leader Bill Seitz made remarks widely interpreted as demeaning to women at a going-away party for former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s departing chief of staff, a female House staffer filed a complaint. In response, a law firm was hired to investigate as Special Counsel.
Records C&BP has now obtained from the Ohio legislature reveal that the law firm hired to conduct what it called the “Seitz Investigation” was Taft Stettinus & Hollister LLP —the firm Seitz worked at for 36 years.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, after being notified of the complaint by House Chief Administrative Officer Kim Flasher, sent a letter to Taft Senior Partner Stuart Dornette and appointed the firm Special Counsel on Feb. 20, 2018. Dornette identifies his top service as crisis management.
DeWine provided no specific written instructions, other than how to send an invoice. The budget for the investigation was set at $12,000.
$6,000 Per Interview
More than 100 people attended the event where Bill Seitz spoke, but the investigators ultimately interviewed only two people, in addition to Seitz himself. According to their report, one was a female legislator who had worked with Seitz on legislation. The other was a man who observed women laughing at the event.
Despite the complainant’s harrowing description of sexual harassment in the House, no female staffers were interviewed, nor was State Rep. Kristina Roegner, who walked out of the party. The woman who wrote the complaint had pleaded,
“Please address this incident with the entire staff of both chambers and LSC, not just members or particular members. And please let us know what will be done to demonstrate a commitment to ensuring a safe and productive workplace for all employees, interns, and volunteers.”
Every Other Month
In the last year, six male Ohio legislators or staff resigned, were accused, apologized for sexual misconduct or harassment or, in one case, was stripped of a committee chairmanship and ordered to complete sensitivity training. All House members were ordered to participate in a sexual harassment training seminar.
The two investigators from Taft asked Seitz if his remarks were intended to denigrate victims of sexual harassment. Their report states:
“Rep. Seitz admitted to making a joke about former Sen. Hite’s actions and referenced the song ‘Let’s Get It On’ by Marvin Gaye. He also referenced the song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in reference to another former representative’s behavior. When asked whether these statements were made with the intention of demeaning the complainants of sexual harassment, Rep. Seitz adamantly denied it.”
The initially anonymous female staffer, who refused to participate in an interview once the Taft investigators had identified her, had written in her complaint:
“It was reasonably foreseeable that Rep. Seitz would make offensive remarks. The remarks were made in direct contradiction to the training we had all just reviewed.”
In an emailed memo to C&BP, Seitz went out of his way to inform us that the staffer’s complaint about sexual harassment in the Ohio House of Representatives was “meritless.”
Calls Upon Seitz to Step Down
There have been multiple calls by Republicans and Democrats for Bill Seitz to step down as Majority Leader. Repeated attempts by C&BP — made before we knew of the staffer’s complaint — to ask the Ohio House leadership if it has taken steps to determine if it has a culture of sexual harassment, or if Seitz’s conduct was part of a pattern, were not answered.
The Special Counsel’s investigation speaks more to an effort to avoid any questions about the House’s culture of sexual harassment and the role of Bill Seitz.
We heard the House had set up a confidential sexual harassment tip line. But a records request revealed nothing. Since they have not done so, we encourage anyone who has been sexually harassed in the Ohio legislature to contact us via CB&P’s confidential and anonymous tip line.
We protect all sources.
Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from sustainable economy philanthropies and donors.
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