OLYMPIA – Three women have accused a former Washington state lawmaker of sexual harassment and assault during his time in the Legislature, becoming the latest statehouse with women reporting misconduct by men.
The fallout from sexual harassment and assault allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein and others in Hollywood has stretched to Legislatures, with hundreds of lawmakers, lobbyists and consultants calling the problem pervasive. Accusations have emerged in Oregon, Rhode Island, Illinois and California.
In Washington state, two of the allegations against former Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams came in Facebook posts written by the women following a story Tuesday by the Northwest News Network and the News Tribune/Olympian about sexual harassment at the Capitol. A fourth woman, Olympia City Councilwoman Jessica Bateman, said Wednesday that Williams kissed her against her wishes after a political meeting.
The claims arose when Williams posted a comment on a reporter’s link to Tuesday’s story, saying he was proud of one of the women in the article for speaking out. That sparked a response by Lindsey Grad, a lobbyist for the union SEIU Healthcare 1199 NW, who said she received unwanted attention and touching from Williams a decade ago, including putting his hands on her leg under the table at a work dinner.
She said other unidentified women had similar experiences, writing that she hoped he has “learned that the name for your behavior is sexual harassment” and that he needs to start with “apologizing to the myriad women you have made feel victimized, not with claiming your space amongst the ranks of the good guys.”
In an initial email Wednesday Williams did not specifically address the allegations. He said he has zero tolerance for workplace harassment and cited times he reported incidents involving two former colleagues.
“I stand by my record, both as a legislator and as an individual, of supporting the dignity and rights of women,” Williams wrote.
He said he is no longer a public figure and threatened litigation “both against the person making the allegations and any media outlet publishing them.”
In a follow up email, Williams said he has never engaged in workplace harassment, “though, clearly, it appears I upset people outside work. Heartbroken over that.”
Williams, who has been president and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association since last year, served in the House from 2005 through January 2011.
Grad, 31, said she spoke out because women across the political realm “all seem to be searching for what can we do about this.”
“Hopefully more women will feel emboldened,” she told the Associated Press.
Samantha Kersul, director of development and operations at the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, wrote in a separate online post that Williams followed her to the bathroom at an Olympia bar in 2009, shoved her against a wall and stuck his tongue in her mouth.
“I smacked him off of me and told him his advances were offensive and unwelcome,” she wrote. “He persisted. Then when I went to leave the bar he asked to walk me to the car and said if I ever needed a reference he would be happy to provide one.”
Kersul told AP that she was in between political jobs at the time and was hoping to get back to the Legislature. She said his parting statement made it clear “he was exerting power over me.”
“He would help my career or hurt my career in politics,” she said Wednesday. “I was not willing to give up everything I worked so hard to do. That’s why I didn’t step forward. He made it clear he had control.”
Kersul was hired at the Legislature for the 2010 session and said she told a legislative assistant – who later became her husband – that she didn’t want to do any work for Williams and why.
Bateman, the Olympia city councilwoman, said she had worked with Williams when she was a House legislative assistant and in campaigns. In 2015, after Williams was no longer at the Legislature but still active in political circles, Bateman said she met with him while running for the council.
During the dinner meeting, she said he put his hand on hers, catching her off guard. Bateman said that when she excused herself, went outside and headed to her car, he pulled her in and kissed her.
“I was shocked and appalled,” Bateman said. “I pushed myself back, got in my car and left. When I got home, I was so in shock I didn’t know what to do.”
She said he later sent her a Facebook message saying that he wanted to come to her house later in the week, but she declined.
“He knew I wanted an endorsement,” Bateman said. “He was using his political power to manipulate me.”
Emma Shepard told AP she was a 22-year-old House intern in 2009 when she ran into Williams at an Olympia nightclub.
She said that he asked her to step outside, then told her he needed a ride to his car. After she parked next to his car, she said he leaned over, thrust his tongue into her mouth, grabbed her hand and put it on his crotch.
“I jerked away and said, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Shepard said. “I made him stop, I said, ‘You have to get out of the car,’ and he said, ‘Don’t tell anyone about this.“’
She said she never filed a complaint and tried to trivialize the incident at first.
“It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that what he did was unacceptable, it was unwanted, it was predatory,” Shepard said.
She said that when reading the stories about Harvey Weinstein in recent weeks, “I was identifying so much with why they stayed quiet.”
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