DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The state of Iowa agreed Monday to pay $4.15 million in settlements to two executive branch employees who were sexually harassed for years by an agency director who was a longtime friend of Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The payments will go to the Iowa Finance Authority's former business development director, Beth Mahaffey, and its communications director, Ashley Jared. Both complained last year to the governor's office about the hostile work environment they endured under Iowa Finance Authority executive director Dave Jamison, who was then fired by Reynolds.
The state appeal board voted 2-1 to approve the settlements after tabling a proposal by State Auditor Rob Sand to seek restitution from Jamison for the cost.
Both women had filed legal complaints with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, but had not yet filed lawsuits. Settling the cases this early — and for this much money — is unusual for the state. But the move avoids potentially years of proceedings during which Jamison's conduct and his association with the governor would have been examined, along with the risk that jurors could eventually return larger verdicts.
The women said that Jamison frequently boasted of his close relationship with the governor and that they didn't complain sooner because they believed he would face no consequences. 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.
The state will pay $2.35 million in cash and annuities to Mahaffey, 53, who left state employment last year after complaining about Jamison. Another $1.8 million will go to Jared, 35, who continues to work at the agency. The money will come from the state's general budget, but Reynolds has asked the authority to consider reimbursing the state for the cost.
Sand, who took office last month, said taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for Jamison's misconduct and that he should be required to pay. But Solicitor General Jeff Thompson told the panel that it's unclear whether the state has the authority to seek restitution from Jamison and that question should be considered later.
State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and Department of Management Director David Roederer voted to approve the deals, saying they trusted advice from the attorney general's office to settle them now. Fitzgerald said that Jamison's conduct was so outrageous that the cases could have ultimately cost the state tens of millions of dollars.
"Having this employee heading up one of our departments is disgusting," said Fitzgerald, who questioned why no criminal charges were filed against Jamison.
Jamison, who has remained silent publicly since the scandal broke, didn't return a message seeking comment.
Reynolds fired Jamison one day after the women contacted her office in March 2018. The governor initially refused to share details of Jamison's conduct, saying the women didn't wish to be identified. But she later released a complaint 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 Reynolds 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" 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.
An independent investigation 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 runs 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.
"Essentially he was using taxpayer money to keep them quiet which is why I believe the taxpayers ought to be going after Dave Jamison," Sand said.