Five women are accusing Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton of retaliating against them because they went public with allegations of sexual harassment or intimidating behavior by him. They take issue with a 28-page defense that Lebsock delivered to the mailboxes of his fellow House members just before the legislative session began.
The document has ignited anger among some and is the latest chapter in a series of counter-claims by the Democrat who in the coming weeks faces the possibility of a vote to oust him from the legislature.
“Don’t you think it would be prudent and a fair thing to do for you to give out your side of the story to your colleagues before your colleagues actually vote on your expulsion?” said Lebsock. “And so it’s not retaliation. It was meant to be a confidential communication between myself and my colleagues.”
We have decided not to publish the full document because it includes uncorroborated sexually-explicit allegations about Democratic Rep. Faith Winter and another woman, including talk of sexual interactions.
We first broke the story of the formal complaints against Lebsock by Rep. Winter, and subsequently, by former lobbyist Holly Tarry.
Whether intended or not, some onlookers felt Lebsock’s effort was retaliatory and seemed to go against the Colorado General Assembly's workplace harassment policy which forbids retaliation. It says that no person will be subject to retaliation for having complained of workplace harassment or for having assisted or participated in an investigation of alleged workplace harassment.
“Even sending something out to other legislators or sending something out to the entire workplace is breeching confidentiality,” said Brie Franklin, the executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “This is a fear why victims don’t want to report and have someone publicly share information like that.”
When a person formally complains of sexual harassment, ultimately to the leadership in the House or Senate, that complaint is considered private. However, the person who makes the complaint may decide to make it public. The person who faces the complaint may also make it public. A House leader warned Lebsock not to do that.
“Please also appreciate that your release of that sensitive information may be construed as retaliation under the policy,” said House Majority Leader KC Becker in a letter dated Dec. 14th. She is the contact person for the investigation.
Jennifer Drobac, a law professor at Indiana University and a national expert on sexual harassment, has been tracking the #metoo movement closely. She reviewed Lebsock’s letter.
“He’s simply trying to discredit the complaintant, which absolutely looks like retaliation,” said Drobac. “He knows that retaliation is prohibited and he did it anyway. It’s nothing new and it’s regrettable and it just highlights that this problem has not gone away and needs to be firmly and swiftly addressed.”
Non-partisan legislative attorneys said the General Assembly’s harassment policy allows concerns about retaliation to be added to existing formal complaints.
Women say Lebsock Letter Inaccurate
Lebsock’s letter alleged that Winter, his first accuser, initiated a conversation with him about sex. He also alleged that “during a conversation with Faith on a different evening at a retreat Faith asked me to sit in a hot tub with her and another legislator. I declined the invitation.”
Winter challenges his assertions.
“He wildly mischaracterized past conversations to fit his own agenda,” said Winter.
Two women not named in Lebsock's document have contacted the Rocky Mountain Employer’s Council, the outside group digging into the facts of the Lebsock case, with concerns. Those women said they want to dispute claims in the document.
Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood is one of those women. She said Lebsock’s account about the hot tub is not true. She also attended the retreat in 2015, which was an annual gathering for House Democrats. Pettersen said she was the one, not Winter, who asked about ten people who were standing nearby whether they wanted to soak in the hot tub.
“It was a group of us that went in the hot tub. It had nothing to do with something inappropriate that Faith was doing,” said Pettersen.
Lebsock’s letter isn’t the first time he’s gone on the offensive. In December he paid for his own lie-detector test, a polygraph, and told members of the media he had passed four questions regarding Rep. Winter. He said the test exonerates him from the allegations.
“The process has been unfair from the start,” said Lebsock.
A top polygraph expert told us a lie detector’s test results are unreliable.
Many people inside the capitol said Lebsock’s efforts to try to debunk the claims against him have hurt him more than helped.
“It’s absurd and desperate,” said Pettersen.
There’s now a fake twitter account called Son_of_Steve mocking him.
Neither the governor nor the House speaker have taken back remarks that Lebsock should resign. He has also been stripped of his committee chairmanship.
Rather, those two leaders, both Democrats, along with Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican, have said sexual harassment at the Capitol should not be tolerated and have welcomed changes, like adding more training and a human relations person to the legislature.
Lebsock isn't the only lawmaker facing a sexual harassment investigation.
Two Senate Republicans are under formal investigation, too.
But their approach to refuting the allegations has been far more muted and reserved.
Sens. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs and Jack Tate of Centennial have said little beyond their initial denials when we first broke our stories in November.
Baumgardner is accused of slapping a former legislative aide’s buttocks four separate times at the Capitol during the 2016 legislative session. Another woman publicly claimed that he made an inappropriate sexual comment to her and repeatedly tried to get her to drink with him in his office. An 18 year-old intern accused Tate of leering and lingering with his hand on her shoulder throughout much of the 2017 legislative session and making sexual innuendos about her clothing.
Those investigations are still pending. Republican leaders have said they want the complaint process to play out. Both men remain committee chairs and Baumgardner who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee is sponsoring the centerpiece GOP measure this session, Senate bill 1 on transportation infrastructure funding.
Editor's Note: Since this story originally ran on Jan. 15, Cassie Turner filed a formal complaint against Lebsock, the third such complaint officially filed against him.
Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.