Kansas commission finds evidence of sexual harassment, retaliation in KDADS case

The Kansas Human Rights Commission says an investigation showed probable cause exists to believe a woman was fired by her Topeka-based employer in retaliation for complaints about alleged sexual harassment by a high-ranking official in the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback.

 

The Topeka Capital-Journal obtained documents showing the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry found a reasonable basis to conclude Equi-Venture Farms executive director Ben Swinnen dismissed employee Jennifer Gill in retaliation for her report of sexual harassment by an official in the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. The Capital-Journal first published a story of the allegations Dec. 10.

Swinnen maintains decisions to place Gill on probation and to terminate her employment in December 2016 had nothing to do with her complaints about months of sexual harassment by KDADS administrator Brandt Haehn. KDADS holds regulatory influence over Equi-Venture. Swinnen said he was friends with Haehn.

A report from the state’s Human Rights Commission said Swinnen’s explanation of Gill’s dismissal didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

“There is insufficient evidence to corroborate the reasons for her termination,” the report said. The report also said Swinnen didn’t fire Gill “for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.”

The Human Rights Commission’s inquiry concluded Swinnen violated Equi-Venture policy by failing to immediately investigate Gill’s allegations. The commission’s report says Swinnen confirmed Haehn sent an illicit video to Gill. But, the commission’s report said, Swinnen took no other action because he believed “none was necessary or requested.”

In a formal complaint and in interviews, Gill said she didn’t have an intimate relationship with Haehn.

The Human Rights Commission acknowledged evidence pointing to Haehn’s sexual harassment of Gill from September to December 2016 while she worked in the Newton office of Equi-Venture. The company provides services to adults with disabilities in a Medicaid system privatized by the Brownback administration in 2013.

Bill Wright, assistant director of the Human Rights Commission, said the standard procedure at this junction was to seek resolution to “unlawful acts or practices” through a conciliation process.

Gill, who now lives in Tennessee, is represented by Brenda Head, an attorney at the Frieden, Unrein and Forbes firm in Topeka.

Gill said she shared text, photograph and video evidence sent to her by Haehn with attorneys at KDADS. She also said Haehn offered her a job in state government on the condition that she would have sex with him several times each week.

In response to information provided to KDADS, Secretary Tim Keck placed Haehn on leave for a few weeks in 2017 before allowing him to return as the agency’s top administrator of home- and community-based services in Kansas.

“As soon as we became aware of these allegations, KDADS put the employee in question on administrative leave,” Kecksaid.

Haehn left the state agency in June to work at Amerigroup, one of three insurance companies operating Kansas’ Medicaid program.

Haehn was fired by Amerigroup after The Capital-Journal published Gill’s assertions about harassment and retaliation.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, sent a letter to Keck with questions about the agency’s response to alleged sexual harassment by Haehn.

In response, Keck met privately with the senator at the Capitol.

“Amerigroup did what Keck should have done in the first place. He should have fired the guy,” Hensley said.

Kimberly Lynch, chief counsel at KDADS, informed Hensley on Friday that Keck wouldn’t answer questions in writing. She referred to a state law preventing public disclosure of information in an employee’s personnel record.

Keck, who previously served as counsel to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, was credited in 2014 with obtaining documents about the police raid of a Coffeyville exotic club that occurred while Paul Davis was in the business.

In 2014, Davis was the Democratic nominee for governor and a challenger to Brownback. The information obtained by Keck was used by the Brownback campaign to discredit Davis.

 

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