Rutherford Denies Harassment Claims
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against him are false. A former employee of Rutherford -- Ed Michalowski -- filed a federal lawsuit alleging the Republican made inappropriate, sexual advances and groped him. The suit also says Rutherford forced staff to do campaign work on state time. At a news conference Monday, Rutherford provided reporters with text messages and travel vouchers to dispute the claims made against him. Rutherford says the lawsuit’s timing is suspect, since it was filed five weeks before the March 18 primary:
"I did not do these things, and these things are to and three years old. Now they are coming up just on the eve on an election," Rutherford said.
Rutherford later took part in a debate where one of his opponents, State Sen. Kirk Dillard, mentioned the lawsuit.
DILLARD: Treasurer Rutherford, are there any more allegations of sexual harassment coming at you from anyone else?
RUTHERFORD: Senator Dillard, I believe that was inappropriate.
Rutherford believes one of his GOP opponents, businessman Bruce Rauner is behind the allegations. Rauner denies wrongdoing. He did not participate in the debate. The fourth candidate in the race, State Sen. Bill Brady, was present.
News Release from Dan Rutherford (issued Monday, Feb. 10)
Edmund Michalowski filed a federal lawsuit today against Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Chief of Staff Kyle Ham. While an independent investigation is on-going, the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office conducted an initial review of documents Michalowski claims support these allegations, as well as its own records, and preliminarily found there was no merit.
The Allegations Are False.
To our knowledge, there are no witnesses to three alleged incidents of harassment—one of which allegedly took place at the treasurer’s home on April 2, 2011, and the other two at events outside the office in August 2011 and August 2012. The alleged incidents in December 2013 were only raised in the complaint filed today, and the treasurer’s office had not been previously informed of any harassment in 2013. In any event, Treasurer Rutherford strongly denies any inappropriate conduct, regardless of the date.
State records reviewed by the treasurer’s office bear no resemblance to Michalowski’s allegations. For instance, Michalowski claims that he was harassed at “an overnight retreat” at the Treasurer’s home in Chenoa on April 2, 2011. However, a travel voucher submitted and signed by Michalowski for the date of April 2, 2011, shows he traveled home from Pontiac (not Chenoa) at 2 in the afternoon. Most importantly, contrary to his claim that he planned to stay the night and that he was harassed in the evening, the voucher indicates Michalowski returned to his residence in Chicago by 4 in the afternoon that day. An email written by Michalowski to another co-worker confirms that he traveled to Pontiac and returned home the same day.
Details such as a July 24, 2011, text from a staffer that the treasurer asked that Michalowski wear a “tank top” are deliberately taken out of context. Michalowski provided to the treasurer’s office what he claims to be the entire string of texts, which shows that Michalowski was engaging in light-hearted conversation with the staffer about appropriate dress.
Further, contrary to his claims, Michalowski did not report any incidents of misconduct to his supervisor or through the Equal Employment Opportunity process, nor did anyone else report any type of misconduct on claims that are 2 and 3 years old. Chief of Staff Kyle Ham vehemently denies that any report was made to him about this conduct.
No treasurer’s office employee in this administration has been pressured or otherwise coerced into performing political activity. Employees such as Michalowski have volunteered to perform political activity on their own time and using their own resources.
Michalowski has never suffered any demotion or decrease in salary, which was substantial; his $99,000 annual salary placed him among the six highest salaries at the treasurer’s office. He was never promised any promotion or position. The text messages produced to our office by Michalowski show continual civility, camaraderie, appreciation, and support from the treasurer and other co-workers for Michalowski and from Michalowski to the treasurer and other co-workers. This is true both pre- and post- the alleged harassment.
Participation in politics is not a factor in advancement at the treasurer’s office. Of 55 non-union employees receiving salary adjustments in the Rutherford administration, 71 percent were employed prior to the Rutherford administration, with many being long-time employees.
The Allegations Are Untimely.
The alleged incidents of harassment started in 2011 and 2012, well beyond the statutes of limitations provided under state law and federal law for Equal Employment Opportunity claims. Only today does Michalowski raise incidents occurring in 2013 as a way to make these allegations seem timely. Like the timing of the claims, this is very convenient for Michalowski.
Likewise, the political activity is alleged to have primarily occurred in 2011 and 2012. Michalowski, like every Illinois State Treasurer’s Office employee, receives Ethics Training annually, and employees are instructed to report any allegations of prohibited political activity or other misconduct to the Office of Executive Inspector General. However, there is a one-year statute of limitations for the Office of Executive Inspector General to open investigations. These allegations were never reported to the Executive Inspector General at the time.
The Timing of the Allegations Is Calculated.
These false allegations were only brought to light on the eve of a political debate on January 23, 2014, and six weeks before a contested primary election. Attorney Christine Svenson accompanied these allegations with a demand of $300,000 to keep these damaging allegations “under wraps.” Because of the nature of the allegations, the treasurer has been unable to publicly discuss them. The treasurer’s office has taken great care not to reveal the identity of Michalowski.
Public records show that Michalowski is in the midst of an on-going bankruptcy proceeding in which Michalowski is delinquent in making payments as of May 2013, with a hearing scheduled on the delinquency for January 23, 2014—the date his attorney first contacted the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office. His home was foreclosed upon in April 2013. In October 2013, Michalowski filed for divorce.
The treasurer’s office will release a summary of the findings of its independent investigator, and will turn over the entire investigative file to its Executive Inspector General at the conclusion of the independent investigation. The treasurer’s office remains committed to providing a workplace that is free of any misconduct.