State House Discrimination Complaints Decreased in 2019

    Reports of discrimination in the State House complex were down last year, according to an annual report reviewed by lawmakers on Friday.

    There were six complaints of discrimination, including four by lawmakers in 2019, according to an aggregate report reviewed by the Legislative Policy Committee on Friday. One of the complaints against a lawmaker was for sexual harassment, one involved a complaint about working conditions, and two were for discrimination other than sexual harassment.

    The report does not identify the lawmakers who were the source of complaints, and one lawmaker could be responsible for more than one complaint, said Lori Mathis, director of operations and support services for the Department of Legislative Services. A single complaint could also lead to more than one resolution.

    In 2019, two of the complaints were resolved by action on the floor by the House of Delegates, though the report does not specify which actions. During the last legislative session, Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford) was censured following accusations she used a racial slur to refer to a legislative district in Prince George’s County. Del. Hassan M. “Jay” Jalisi (D-Baltimore County) was reprimanded on the House floor after the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics issued a report detailing five years’ worth of incidents in which the second-term lawmaker was verbally abusive to his office staff and General Assembly staffers, creating a “toxic” work environment.

    One complaint against a lawmaker was referred for criminal investigation, according to the report.

    The two other complaints were lodged against non-employees and were resolved through mediated resolution.

    The committee accepted the report on the figures without discussion.

    This is the second year the report has been required by legislation passed in 2018. Last year, the committee received reports of 24 discrimination complaints, including 17 lodged against lawmakers.

    Mathis told the committee that all legislators, General Assembly staff and Legislative Services staff have received anti-harassment training and about 150 interns are in the process of being trained as well.

    Also on Friday, the committee received what is believed to be the first-ever workplace climate survey of the Legislature.

    About 500 people who work in the Department of Legislative Services, Legislature and lobbying corps responded to the first survey, which was anonymous and conducted online in February and March of 2019.

    The initial survey results show high levels of job satisfaction, employee engagement and awareness of anti-discrimination and harassment policies, said Michelle Davis, the new Diversity, Equity and Opportunity Officer for the Department of Legislative Services.

    Participation levels were highest in the Department of Legislative Services (75 percent), followed by:

    • House members ― 37 percent
    • House staff ― 24 percent
    • Senate members ― 32 percent
    • Senate staff ― 28 percent, and
    • Lobbyists ― 15 percent.

    The department will conduct similar surveys every two years. In the future, the surveys are likely to be conducted earlier in the legislative session to boost participation, said Victoria L. Gruber, executive director of the Department of Legislative Services.

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.