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Wisconsin settles sexual harassment complaints for nearly $800,000 of taxpayer money



MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin taxpayers have paid nearly $800,000 over the last decade to settle sexual harassment complaints against state employees, newly released records show.

The documents, released to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in open records requests, show the sum was paid to settle at least 12 sexual harassment complaints within the Department of Corrections, the Department of Justice, the Legislature and state universities in Madison and Stevens Point, among other agencies.

The state has tens of thousands of employees. These settlements are only a fraction of the tens of billions of dollars spent by the state each year.

The payments, which range from $6,500 to $250,000 from 2007-2017, highlight the costs for taxpayers that can result from claims of sexual harassment in state offices around Wisconsin.

It also may not be a complete picture of all settlements because agencies are also able to settle claims on their own, said DOA spokesman Steve Michels.

State officials’ handling of sexual harassment claims has been under scrutiny lately.

The state records showed many of the cases that ended in settlements in the last decade were brought by state employees, although one lawsuit was filed by an inmate at the state prison in Fox Lake. He alleged a guard repeatedly sexually harassed him between 2013 and 2014. The inmate received $100,000 from the state to settle the claim against the corrections officer, who was fired in 2015 over the allegations.

Another settlement involved a University of Wisconsin-Madison heating plant employee who said that she faced unwanted sexual advances from the facility’s superintendent and was forced to share a locker room with male co-workers, according to the documents. UW-Madison agreed to pay her $250,000 in 2008.

Two UW-Stevens Point employees were each paid $34,000 and $20,000 respectively to settle complaints that focused on sexually harassing and discriminatory behavior from a custodial supervisor in 2013

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