Joni Ernst — a Republican Iowa State Senator who is currently running for U.S. Senate — is calling bullshit on a new lawsuit filed by Kirsten Anderson, a former Republican State Caucus employee, who claims that she was dismissed after reporting several cases of sexual harassment.
While Ernst is accused of no crime, the lawsuit alleges that she witnessed the harassment and did nothing to stop it. Senator Ernst denies any knowledge of the incidents and posits that the lawsuit is an attempt by the Democratic party to sabotage her campaign as the November election draws nearer.
From The Des Moines Register:
[Anderson's] lawsuit includes an allegation that Republican state Sens. Joni Ernst of Red Oak and Sandra Greiner of Keota witnessed sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior exhibited by their male colleagues but did nothing about it.
Ernst is now a candidate for the U.S. Senate in a tight race against Democrat Bruce Braley. Ernst, who was elected to the Iowa Senate in a special election in 2011, was not personally named as a defendant.
In response to Anderson, Senator Ernst — who, again, is not personally being charged with a crime and is only mentioned in the lawsuit in passing — writes:
"As a mother of three daughters and someone who has been sexually harassed myself, I take sexual harassment allegations very seriously. Sexual harassment should never be tolerated. If I had witnessed any sexual harassment in the state legislature, I certainly would have put a stop to it. If anyone had brought accusations like this to my attention at the time, of course I would have acted immediately. Frankly, I am shocked to learn that I'm even referred to in this suit, and as a former colleague I hope she is not being exploited ahead of the election."
That's a lot to unpack. Ernst has spoken against sexual harassment at large in the past, but that neither proves nor disproves Anderson's claim. The Iowa Republican State caucus is largely male (only four of the 24 senators are women) and it is entirely possible that a female senator might not feel comfortable scolding her male colleagues' behavior — or there's also the possibility that she heard the comments, but wasn't offended by them.
Then, of course, there's Ernst's implication that Anderson's lawsuit has been manipulated or manufactured by the Democratic party as a means of winning the November vote.
"It's no coincidence that these allegations are being raised barely two weeks before the election," wrote Ernst's spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel in an email to Politico. "Any reporting on this matter should consider the timing and political motives behind this suit."
The lawyer representing Anderson is an outspoken Democrat. His political affiliation, however, does not mean that his client — whose official reason for being fired was "substandard work performance" — is a liar and opportunist.
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