Dana Wachs’ Selective Sexual Harassment Policy

Just how aggressive is gubernatorial candidate and state representative Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire) when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace? That depends on when you ask him apparently.

If you look at the Wachs of today, you see a politician who wants to go after harassment wherever it lurks – even in his own Assembly Democratic Caucus. Wachs was one of the first Democrats in Wisconsin to call for the resignation of state Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee) when the Capitol Times reported a series of accusations of inappropriate sexual advances had been made by the Milwaukee Democrat.

Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, said he was “disgusted” by the allegations.

“Legislative staffers often work long hours for little pay and are asked to attend events outside of normal work hours on behalf of their political party. These staffers should be safe and comfortable with the knowledge that they will not be harassed or assaulted,” Wachs said in a statement.

This is the continuation of a trend for Wachs, who last week announced he’d be calling for an overhaul of all harassment procedures and employee training with the state legislature. The issue appears to be something he plans to use to separate himself from the pack of Democratic hopefuls against Gov. Scott Walker in 2018.

Dana Wachs called today for a complete overhaul of the training, reporting, and settlement procedures for sexual harassment and assault in the Wisconsin legislature. Despite recent revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct in Congress and at other statehouses around the country, Gov. Walker and his Republican leadership have failed to take proactive steps to create a more responsive, transparent system for addressing sexual harassment at Wisconsin’s Capitol.

“Every individual has a fundamental right to feel safe from sexual harassment or assault when they go to work and when they interact with coworkers offsite. It is completely unacceptable that the legislature does not have mandatory sexual harassment training for staff or legislators. It is completely unacceptable that there is not a clearly defined, transparent process for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.

But Wachs didn’t always sound, or act this passionately when it came to cracking down on workplace sexual harassment.

In 2015, when legislative Republicans – led by state Senator Roger Roth (R-Appleton) – were crafting various civil service reforms, Wachs openly opposed the bill and voted against it. By doing so, he put the state’s public employee unions over the ability of agency heads to fire state employees for “just cause and discipline,” an area of labor law which typically includes such things as unwanted sexual advances and sexual harassment.

2. Under current law, an employer may remove, suspend without pay, discharge, reduce the base pay of, or demote (take an adverse employment action against) a permanent classified employee and certain assistant district attorneys and assistant state public defenders only for just cause. This bill expressly states that an employer has just cause to take an adverse employment action against an employee for work performance or personal conduct that an appointing authority determines to be inadequate, unsuitable, or inferior, but only after the appointing authority imposes progressive discipline that complies with standards established by the administrator of DPM. This bill also expressly states that an employer has just cause to take an adverse employment action against an employee without imposing progressive discipline for specific conduct. Such conduct includes theft of agency property, falsifying agency records, and while on duty, harassing or intentionally inflicting physical harm on another person. (Emphasis added.)

Furthermore, what is Wachs’ logic in saying that legislative staff need more this kind of protections when he was unwilling to support them for state agencies. Is this sudden transition on the issue nothing more than a political ploy?

This hypocrisy was quickly called out by the Republican Party of Wisconsin, who issued the following statement on Wachs’ sudden change of heart on tougher standards against sexual harassment:

“Liberal trial attorney Dana Wachs is all talk and no action,” said RPW Communications Director Alec Zimmerman.  “If Wachs truly wanted to lead on this issue, he would have supported reforms that enable state agencies to crack down on government employees guilty of committing sexual harassment in the workplace. He also wouldn’t have supported sleazy Gordon Hintz for Democrat leader.”

In 2011, Hintz was arrested during a 2011 prostitution sting at an Appleton area massage parlor. Wachs was not elected to the state Assembly until November 2012.