Spencer’s Conduct Could Spur New City Harassment Law
Six employees accuse City Attorney but report finds city law doesn't cover elected officials.
Should City of Milwaukee elected officials be subject to the same anti-harassment regulations as city employees?
The seemingly benign issue has come to the forefront at City Hall after a Department of Employee Relations (DER) investigation into the conduct of City Attorney Tearman Spencer.
Spencer, as corroborated by witnesses, is alleged to have asked only male employees about their height during an introductory meeting and called females a combination of dear, sweetheart and sweetie. In August he asked males about beards and females about their families.
In another meeting, he allegedly said “women like to be fashionably late” and “women needed to be reminded sometimes” while waiting for an individual to show up. He complimented one female employee on her “very nice calves” in front of another.
The news of the investigation was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Spencer said the allegations were “fabricated stories” motivated by his upsetting a 36-year incumbent.
The DER report doesn’t exonerate Spencer for any of his alleged comments, but instead the department determined that the ant-harassment policy doesn’t apply to elected officials.
“The investigation did not conclude that adverse employment actions were taken because of gender,” wrote human resources compliance officer Katherine Holiday in a December 28th report. “Most, if not all, of the employment decisions that were brought forward during the investigation were made at the recommendation of the Deputies for legitimate work-related reasons.”
In a December email to Holiday, Spencer said it was his opinion that the report wasn’t subject to an open records request. But the newspaper was able to obtain it last week.
Council members JoCasta Zamarripa and Michael Murphy announced Friday they intend to introduce legislation to make the policy apply to elected officials as well as employees. Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic has signed on as a co-sponsor, but a formal resolution has not been introduced.
“I was surprised and dismayed to learn that the city’s anti-harassment policy does not apply to elected officials, just as many residents were,” said Zamarripa in a statement. “This proposition is a simple one, as harassment should never be acceptable and there should be accountability for those who breach the trust of their co-workers.”
“Whether or not the offender in these situations is an elected official shouldn’t mean the appropriate policy cannot be enforced,” said Murphy.
“I’m not going to speak about that, but I don’t think anybody should harass anybody,” Spencer told the newspaper. “How about that?”
But even if the policy doesn’t apply to elected officials, that doesn’t mean the city is immune to lawsuits surrounding the behavior of elected officials.
“The person with the most power in this situation, City Attorney Mr. Tearman Spencer, needs to understand the role he plays, and the culpability belonging to him in key City Attorney’s office changes as well as in the potential costs to the city,” wrote Holliday in her conclusion.
Spencer did not respond to a request for comment on the report.