Research shows that lawmakers in Washington verbally abused and bullied staff

By | December 19, 2023

A Republican state lawmaker violated legislative conduct rules by repeatedly belittling, berating and swearing at staffers, leaving some “traumatized” by the experience, an investigation released Monday by the chief clerk of the Washington House of Representatives concludes.

Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Gig Harbor, demonstrated “a pattern of behavior in which she lashes out at people, makes public statements that have the impact of humiliating and embarrassing individuals and is generally disrespectful,” wrote Sheryl Willert, an expert on labor law. hired by the House of Representatives to conduct the investigation.

Her actions violate the House workplace policy that prohibits verbal abuse and bullying, including threatening, demeaning, humiliating or intimidating behavior, Willert concluded.

Caldier, who did not return a phone call or email Monday, appealed the findings Friday. She has 30 days to submit additional information to the House Executive Rules Committee, the panel of four Democrats and three Republicans that can uphold or overrule the findings.

First elected in 2014, Caldier represents the 26th Legislative District, which covers parts of Kitsap and Pierce counties, including Bremerton, Port Orchard, Purdy and Gig Harbor.

Caldier could face discipline from the executive rules committee, its caucus or the House leadership because some of the affected employees worked for other parts of the chamber operation. The punishment can range from a letter of reprimand to reduced staff or loss of committee assignments.

Through a spokesperson, House Minority Leader Drew Stokesbary said he would have no explanation until the appeal is completed.

Bernard Dean, chief clerk of the House of Representatives, said he will wait until the process is completed.

Caldier told the researcher that she was not aware of the concerns raised by interviewees. And the lawmaker alleged on multiple occasions that she was discriminated against when the state — specifically her caucus and the Office of the Chief Clerk — failed to accommodate her disability, namely declining eyesight.

But Willert did not believe this, writing in a footnote that this was “an attempt either to divert attention from her own behavior, which was the subject of the investigation, or to suggest that it was because of her disability that she was placed on the the way she acted.”

Representative described as ‘a shouter’ who repeatedly used profane language

An incident in a woman’s bathroom at the Spokane Airport on November 18, 2022 sparked the investigation.

A meeting of the House Republican Caucus and staff ended and several people headed to the airport to fly to Seattle. Caldier was in the bathroom doing something with her makeup when a person, identified as Individual 1, walked in and greeted her.

When the lawmaker didn’t respond, the person repeated himself and identified himself when Caldier asked who was speaking. At that point, Caldier allegedly called Individual 1 “a terrible person” and added “we’re done.” There were witnesses.

Caldier said in an initial interview that she was “shocked.” She later said she didn’t know if the person came in to talk to her or use the bathroom, and at one point she told Willert, “Everyone knows I can’t see, so why would you come talk to me .”

On Dec. 8, Caldier was locked out of staff, including her legislative assistant, “due to a pattern of communication issues with staff,” according to a redacted email in the report.

The formal investigation began six days later.

It took a while. Willert interviewed 15 people. She spoke with Caldier in May, June and July, each time in the presence of a lawyer.

The report contains 35 pages of investigative narrative and 52 pages of documents, mostly emails. Some date back several years and concern Caldier’s claims about a lack of accommodations for her disability.

Those who worked with Caldier on a fairly regular basis described her as “obnoxious” and “a shouter,” and someone who is generally unappreciative, according to the report.

One interviewee said she had 10 legislative assistants between 2015 and 2022.

Caldier said some left to work for people with political views more closely aligned with their own. Others moved on because they weren’t qualified, she told the investigator.

Some interviewees said Caldier often used profanity in general conversations. She also directed profane language at employees.

Caldier did not deny that she used profanity under certain circumstances, telling the investigator: “The reason there are swear jars is because there is a lot of swearing in politics, she usually pays in advance and all things have to be taken care of. of your sins.”

Leadership position revoked, reportedly due to conduct

Caldier’s combustible behavior is well known among her legislative colleagues.

She reportedly lost her leadership position in the caucus in February 2022 due to incidents with staff. Republican Rep. Joel Kretz, then the deputy minority leader, reportedly told her she needed advice.

That summer, peer mentoring was proposed, but Caldier declined to use formal mediation, the person who filed the original complaint told the investigator.

In November, Caldier left the caucus in a very public manner and stayed away during the 2023 session. The report includes a December 2022 email in which she tells the recipient, whose name was redacted, that she left because of “the poor treatment under your leadership’.

Caldier expressed his concerns and frustrations about the caucus’ leadership to the Inquirer, telling her that each member “has to navigate landmines because the leadership is really there for itself.”

Rep. JT Wilcox, R-Yelm, served as House Minority Leader in November 2022. He declined to comment on the details of the investigation.

“There was no caucus action that prevented her from coming into the caucus room,” he said.

This story was initially published by the Washington State Standard, a nonprofit news organization and part of the States News network, which covers state issues. Learn more at www.washingtonstatestandard.com.

This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Rep. Michelle Caldier accused of bullying and swearing at staff

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