The state of Iowa has tentatively agreed to pay $4.15 million to two executive branch employees who were sexually harassed for years by an agency director who had been a longtime friend of Gov. Kim Reynolds, according to records released Monday.
Under settlements negotiated last week, the money would go to the Iowa Finance Authority’s former business development director, Beth Mahaffey, and its communications director, Ashley Jared. A state panel will consider approving the deals Monday afternoon.
Both women complained last year to the governor’s office about the hostile work environment they endured under Iowa Finance Authority executive director Dave Jamison. Jamison hasn’t publicly spoken about the allegations and didn’t return a message Monday from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The state would pay $2.35 million in cash and monthly annuities to Mahaffey, 53, who left state employment last year after complaining about Jamison’s behavior. Another $1.8 million would go to Jared, 35, who continues to work at the agency.
The money would come from the state’s general budget, but Reynolds has asked the authority to consider reimbursing the state for the cost.
The payments would be the most expensive settlements ever paid by the state to victims of sexual harassment in government. Both women had filed legal complaints with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, but had not yet filed lawsuits.
Settling the cases this early would be unusual for the state. But the move would avoid potentially years of proceedings during which Jamison’s conduct and his association with the governor would have been examined.
The women said that Jamison frequently boasted of his close relationship with Reynolds and that they didn’t complain sooner because they believed he would be protected politically. They came forward after they were disturbed by an incident in which Jamison allegedly showed one a pornographic video during a car ride, looked at his crotch and said, “can you tell when I am excited?” They said they were afraid of the former marine.
Reynolds fired Jamison one day after the women contacted her office in March 2018, citing credible allegations of sexual harassment. The governor initially refused to share details, saying the women didn’t wish to be identified. But she later released a written complaint filed by Mahaffey that described constant sexual talk and improper behavior by Jamison in the workplace, during travel and social outings.
In statements issued by their lawyers, both women praised the governor for firing Jamison and keeping their complaints confidential.
Mahaffey said that she went to work for the agency to serve Iowans but ran into an “increasingly toxic and harmful” work environment.
“I came forward in desperation when I could no longer tolerate the dehumanization of myself and others. This was a very difficult decision due to the constantly looming threat of retaliation,” she said.
Jared said that coming forward “took every ounce of courage and strength I had” but she did so to prevent others from being harassed.
Iowa Solicitor General Jeff Thompson told the appeal board in a letter that “it is in the best interests of the state to resolve this case” based on the findings of an independent investigation.
The investigation by the Weinhardt law firm concluded Jamison had subjected the women — identified as Witness 1 and 2 — to “aggressive and harassing treatment.” He frequently talked in detail about his sex life, asked questions about theirs, and made remarks about their bodies, the report found. In the most egregious incident, Jamison allegedly grabbed one of the women’s breasts as part of a “joke” during a work outing at a bar.
Jamison disputed their allegations, but the report found his denials weren’t credible.
Reynolds has described Jamison as a longtime professional and family friend. She said that she knew he had a reputation as a heavy-drinking partier but that she never witnessed or was aware of any improper sexual harassment.
The two met when they were county officials in the 1990s and later became leaders of the association representing county treasurers. They ran on the statewide GOP ticket in the 2010 election, when Reynolds was elected lieutenant governor and Jamison lost his race for state treasurer. Then-Gov. Terry Branstad appointed him in 2011 to lead the authority, which promotes affordable housing and other programs.
Jared and Mahaffey received unusually large salary increases from Jamison that weren’t justified or necessary, according to an audit released last month. Jared’s salary increased by 210 percent during her 10 years with the agency to $115,000, while Mahaffey’s went up 44 percent in six years to $87,000.