State News

Sexual harassment complaint against former Democratic lawmaker ended in $75,000 settlement

Treasurer of Milwaukee Spencer Coggs was issued a $75,000 settlement for sexually harassing one of his legislative aides while he was representing Milwaukee as a state senator. 

Image By: Photo Courtesy of Lacy Landre/ljlandre.com

Six years after a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint was filed to Wisconsin’s Equal Rights Division by an aide, Wisconsin taxpayers spent $75,000 to resolve the settlement against former Milwaukee Democratic state senator Spencer Coggs.

Coggs, who is now City Treasurer of Milwaukee, was accused of discriminating against one of his aides, Jana Williams, because of her race and gender. According to documents collected by the Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in 2015 administrative judge Deborah Little Cohn found probable cause to believe that Williams’ complaints were valid.

Coggs made several inappropriate comments and sexual innuendos about William’s breasts and sex life during her time working for him, including calling her fiancé gay, according to Little Cohn’s findings. Additionally, though both Williams and Coggs are African-American, Coggs told Williams that she was “not black enough,” wrote Little Cohn.

In a statement Monday, Coggs claimed that he had no involvement in settlement talks and was fully innocent.

"In over 35 years in public office, at no time have I engaged in or condoned behavior which could be viewed as harassment or discrimination with respect to the complainant or anyone else who has worked for me," Coggs said.

Williams initially approached the human resources officials about Coggs in 2009, mentioning how other staff in his office would use binoculars to spy on women walking outside the Capitol, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Despite her complaint, no action was taken.

Williams then made an official complaint with the state Equal Rights Division in 2011, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Differing from sexual assault investigations at the state level, the Equal Rights Division releases all investigation findings regarding these types of cases.

This settlement, disclosed among many other national reports in the media in recent weeks exposing sexual harassment by men in public positions, highlighted recent objections about Wisconsin Legislature’s policy not to release any sexual harassment records.

Leaders from both parties in the Legislature said they conceal their sexual harassment investigations in order to foster confidence among employees that the Assembly has the ability to resolve internal issues. Critics, however, say keeping investigation information private protects the perpetrator rather than the victim.

State Senate Chief Clerk Jeff Renk and state Assembly Chief Clerk Patrick Fuller, who made the decision to maintain the holding of records, disclosed to the Journal Sentinel that there have been three other undisclosed complaints of sexual harassment made over the last 10 years.

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