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Investigation finds former lawmaker harassed assistant

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 1, 2019

In this Feb. 5, 2015  photo, Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, listens during a hearing in Olympia, Wash. An outside investigation, released by the Senate Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, into improper conduct allegations against the former senator found he sexually harassed a former legislative assistant and created a hostile work environment once she left to work for a state agency. Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, resigned days before the 105-day legislative session started last month. (Rachel La Corte / AP)
In this Feb. 5, 2015 photo, Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, listens during a hearing in Olympia, Wash. An outside investigation, released by the Senate Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, into improper conduct allegations against the former senator found he sexually harassed a former legislative assistant and created a hostile work environment once she left to work for a state agency. Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, resigned days before the 105-day legislative session started last month. (Rachel La Corte / AP)
By Rachel La Corte Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. – An outside investigation into improper conduct allegations against former Sen. Kevin Ranker found he sexually harassed a former legislative assistant and created a hostile work environment for her once she left to work for a state agency.

The 10-page report by Tara Parker, an investigator with Ogden Murphy Wallace law firm in Seattle, was released by the Senate Friday. Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, resigned days before the 105-day legislative session started last month.

Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson said that while violation of Senate policy occurred, since Ranker resigned, no disciplinary action will be recommended.

Parker was hired by the chamber in October to investigate claims made by Ann Larson, who served as Ranker’s legislative assistant for a year. Larson says she dealt with sexual harassment and hostile workplace issues while working for him during the 2010 legislative session. Larson wasn’t named in the report under the chamber’s confidentiality policies, but Larson has spoken publicly about her experiences and she and Senate leaders have confirmed she is the complainant in the report.

In a text message to The Associated Press, Larson said she was satisfied with the report’s findings.

“I hope that by my actions, other victims feel safe to come forward and confident that their voices will be heard,” she wrote.

Larson has said that she had a brief consensual relationship with Ranker before he was elected to the Legislature, but that when she rebuffed him after he recruited her to the Senate, he became increasingly hostile to her, leading her to report the misconduct to Senate officials before ultimately leaving for a job with a state agency. The report notes that there were no Senate records of her 2010 complaint, but that witnesses interviewed by Parker said “that they were not in the practice of keeping such records at that time.”

Larson, who is now director of government relations at the state’s Department of Enterprise Services, says she also was subjected to hostile encounters involving Ranker once she working as a legislative liaison for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The report said that while there was no evidence Ranker used his authority and influence to retaliate against her, the investigation did find that his behavior interfered with Larson’s work performance and created “a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment.”

In a written statement , Ranker said that he likely treated Larson differently because of their previous relationship, but wrote “that does not make my actions acceptable.”

“While in the position of power as a boss, one must consider the formality of the workplace; all employees should feel supported and successful in their job,” he wrote.

The investigation into Ranker was the first test of the chamber’s new workplace policies adopted in the wake of the (hash)MeToo movement.

In July, a Senate committee approved revised workplace policies based on recommendations by a bipartisan task force. Under the new policy, once an investigation and any subsequent appeals are completed, reports will be released publicly if there is a finding of a violation of prohibited conduct.

The task force’s recommendations also included a plan to hire a nonpartisan human resources officer who can independently investigate complaints of harassment or discrimination in the chamber. Last month, the Senate hired Parker on an interim basis for the job, through April 30, while they continue the search for a permanent hire. The House also has contracted with Parker as their human resources officer for the legislative session.

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