Monday, February 10, 2014

Rutherford employee's suit claims sex harassment, campaign push

By Jamey Dunn

A former employee filed a lawsuit today accusing GOP gubernatorial candidate and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford of sexual harassment and pressuring employees to perform campaign work.

Edmund Michalowski, who worked for Rutherford from 2011 until he resigned this month, is suing Rutherford and his chief of staff, Kyle Ham. Michalowski alleges that both men pressured him to do campaign work, including fundraising for Rutherford. Michalowksi’s suit claims that he was passed over for promotions and raises while other workers who performed campaign work saw advancements and pay increases. Michalowski worked as director of community affairs and marketing for the treasurer. According to his lawsuit, he received a promotion and took on more duties without getting a raise.

“In 2013, Rutherford screamed to another employee of the Treasurer’s Office that Plaintiff was ‘useless to him’ because he had not helped him sufficiently politically,” the lawsuit says. Before being hired by the treasurer, Michalowski worked for the secretary of state’s office. He also alleges that Rutherford made several unwanted sexual advances, including groping him, and that Rutherford offered him professional advancement in exchange for sex. The lawsuit says that Michalowski went to Rutherford’s Chenoa home for a retreat, but that there were no other staff members there when he arrived. He says that after dinner, he went to the guest room and that Rutherford came in and groped him. “Rutherford entered Plaintiff’s bedroom and grabbed at Plaintiff’s genital area. Plaintiff immediately forced Rutherford off of him. Plaintiff gathered his belongings and left. Plaintiff informed Ham of the incident shortly thereafter, to which Ham replied, ‘At least we have job security’ and that ‘it’ had happened to him as well,” the lawsuit says.

Rutherford denies all the claims, and travel vouchers produced by his office call Michalowski’s timeline on the day of the retreat into question. “State records reviewed by the treasurer’s office bear no resemblance to Michalowski’s allegations. For instance, Michalowski claims that he was harassed at ‘an overnight retreat’ at the treasurer’s home in Chenoa on April 2, 2011. However, a travel voucher submitted and signed by Michalowski for the date of April 2, 2011, shows he traveled home from Pontiac (not Chenoa) at 2 in the afternoon. Most importantly, contrary to his claim that he planned to stay the night and that he was harassed in the evening, the voucher indicates Michalowski returned to his residence in Chicago by 4 in the afternoon that day. An email written by Michalowski to another co-worker confirms that he traveled to Pontiac and returned home the same day,” said a statement from Rutherford’s office.

Rutherford announced a few weeks ago that he was initiating an external probe into allegations against him from an employee, but he said he could not describe the allegations at the time. “While an independent investigation is ongoing, the Illinois state treasurer’s office conducted an initial review of documents [that] Michalowski claims support these allegations, as well as its own records, and preliminarily found there was no merit,” said a statement from the office. Rutherford told reporters at a Schaumburg news conference that he plans to forge ahead with his gubernatorial bid. “I’m carrying on with my campaign,” he said. “We’re going to continue on.”

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