By Spencer Coggs
I am innocent of all claims regarding the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division matters. The state found there was no probable cause as to the allegations and dismissed the complaints against me and the Wisconsin State Legislature in 2011. Subsequently, when the dismissed complaint against the Wisconsin State Legislature was appealed, I learned that the state settled it but I was not part of that settlement discussion or decision.
Here is a chronology:
1. In early 2011, when I was a member of the Wisconsin State Senate, a former employee of my State Senate Office filed a series of complaints with the Equal Rights Division of the Department of Workforce Development against me and the Wisconsin State Legislature.
2. The complaints were filed after the Complainant was let go when my Senate Office staffing was reduced after the Senate Democrats lost the majority in the State Senate after the 2010 elections. The complaints were filed months later.
3. Although the claims were without merit, I offered my full cooperation with the Equal Rights Division to dispute the accusations. In addition, the Complainant filed a complaint alleging unlawful campaign activities with Government Accountability Board.
4. The Equal Rights Division dismissed the complaints against me and against the Wisconsin State Legislature, and made a separate finding that the complaints stated no probable cause. The Government Accountability Board also found no probable cause. Subsequently, in 2011 all charges against me personally were dropped.
5. The Complainant did not appeal the dismissed complaints filed against me.
6. The Complainant did appeal the finding of no probable cause in the complaint filed against Wisconsin State Legislature.
7. The Equal Rights Division appeal process lasted into 2015 although I was never called as a witness at any hearing to provide counter testimony on behalf of the Wisconsin State Legislature’s case.
8. Despite not having the benefit of my testimony, an administrative law judge for the Equal Rights Division wrote in early 2015 that the appeal stated probable cause. However, judge wrote that because I was not called to testify, the judge was “unable to determine with any certainty” the reason why the Complainant was let go when I was forced to reduce my Senate Office staffing. The decision concluded that “if additional witnesses were to testify at a merits hearing in the matter, [the Complainant] could face challenges that were not present at the probable cause hearing in proving her case.” This means that the administrative law judge made her 2015 ruling by hearing only one side of the story.
9. When I learned later in 2015 that attorneys for the Wisconsin State Legislature and the Complainant were considering a settlement of the appeal, I strongly objected because it would suggest to some that I had allowed or personally harassed or discriminated against the Complainant, and that settlement would result in depriving me the opportunity to testify in order to rebut all untrue claims and allegations.
10. Despite my full cooperation with the Equal Rights Division process, my continued offers to testify, and my strong disagreement with settling, attorneys for the Wisconsin State Legislature agreed to a settlement and apparently paid the Complainant and her lawyer a total sum of $75,000. I did not sign or approve of the settlement agreement because I was not a party to the appeal.
While I understand that settlements of Equal Rights Division matters and the allegations themselves may not be confidential, my strong concerns about not being able to testify against the accusations and the conclusions that some could make against me many years later because of the settlement apparently now have come true. I believed then, and I believe now, that the state never should have settled.
To be clear, I did not engage in or condone behavior which could be viewed as harassment or discrimination against anyone who has worked for me at any time during the more than 35 years that I have proudly served in public office.