Racism, sexism and the ‘C-word’: Iowa GOP staffer says senate office was like a ‘locker room’
A former staffer in the Iowa state Senate office testified in her suit against the state of Iowa on Tuesday, alleging that the office was a hostile work environment where workers were subject to a “free-flowing” stream of sexist and racist remarks.
The Des Moines Register said Wednesday that Kristen Anderson worked as the communications director for the Republican caucus of the Iowa state Senate until she was reportedly fired for raising workplace concerns about the “locker room” atmosphere.
State attorneys defending against Anderson’s accusations say that she was fired for performance issues — although they do not dispute all of her accounts of lewd and inappropriate behavior.
“Conversation and jokes were always free-flowing,” Anderson, 39, told the jury in Polk County District Court.
Racist jokes and jokes about women’s sex lives, breast size and bodies were common, especially with senior analyst Jim Friedrich, who routinely teased and harassed women employees about their sex lives and frequently called women “c*nts.”
“Sometimes we would even yell — I mean really yell — at him to stop,” she told jurors. “It got to the point where we would even yell, ‘How would you like it if we said these things to you?’ And his reply was either laughter or, ‘I don’t care, you can say whatever you want to me.'”
Anderson said that the office culture took a noticeable downturn during Friedrich’s divorce in 2010.
“He started calling women (expletives), especially his wife,” said Anderson to the jury. “The jokes increased. The anger toward ethnicities increased. It was very scary.”
State Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, Anderson said, would regularly stop by the office to discuss the breast sizes of various women lobbyists and the skirt lengths of Senate pages.
Another witness to testify Tuesday was former GOP caucus staff director John Hodges, who worked in the office from 2011 to 2012. Hodges described a slipshod human resources operation where some staffers did not even have personnel files and never issued employees any form of workplace guidelines or policy manual.
During her testimony, Anderson described Friedrich’s reaction to her first complaint about his behavior in 2010.
“He came into the office absolutely belligerent, yelling and screaming at everyone in the office,” she said. “And he started saying, ‘You can’t tell me what to do. This is a free country. I can say whatever I want, you’re not going to stifle my speech.'”
Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday.