A panel appointed by the Executive Board to investigate the Legislature’s handling of the workplace harassment complaint that led to the resignation of former North Platte Sen. Mike Groene has completed its work.
Groene resigned Feb. 21 amid news reports that he took inappropriate photographs of a female legislative staffer without her permission while she worked in his office. The staff member subsequently filed a workplace harassment complaint with the Executive Board.
In the wake of the resignation, chairperson Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango appointed three senators to serve on the panel, which was authorized to hire an outside investigator to determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint constituted unlawful workplace discrimination or harassment and provide recommendations to the Legislature regarding its workplace harassment policies.
Lincoln employment law attorney Tara Paulson was hired to conduct the investigation and the executive summary of her report was shared with lawmakers prior to adjournment April 13 by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, one of three senators appointed to the panel.
Wishart said the investigator found that Groene had photographed the complainant without her authorization or knowledge and characterized his behavior as “boorish, brainless and bizarre, especially for the workplace.” The investigator did not find, however, that the photographs were shared with other members or employees of the Legislature.
The executive summary further stated that had Groene not resigned, he likely would have been subject to reprimand, censure or expulsion from the Legislature. His actions did not, however, constitute unlawful discrimination or harassment according to relevant legal standards or the Legislature’s workplace harassment policies, according to Paulson.
The investigation also found that Hughes appropriately followed legal standards and the Legislature’s workplace harassment policies in conducting the Executive Board’s investigation of the complaint.
Paulson noted that she did not have access to all evidence, due to a parallel investigation being conducted by the Nebraska State Patrol. She reserved the right to reopen and reevaluate the report’s conclusions based on that evidence once it is available, if asked to do so by the Executive Board.
Wishart said the report contains a number or recommendations regarding the Legislature’s workplace harassment policies that will be considered by senators before next session.
“I want to thank the complainant for having the courage to speak out on this issue,” Wishart said. “As a former staff member myself, it is clear that we have a lot more work to do to improve our workplace culture and environment at the Legislature.”