In South Dakota’s Division of Criminal Investigation’s 80-year history, only 13 women have become DCI agents. Laura Kaiser was one of them. The Aberdeen woman’s career was going well for eight years before it was derailed after she was sexually harassed.
Just days ago, a jury awarded Kaiser a $1.2 million judgment from a jury for the retaliation she endured from the DCI after she reported the harassment.
We’ve been hearing a lot about sexual harassment in the news and the downfall of many powerful men accused of it. But in Kaiser’s case, it wasn’t the sexual harassment that she endured, rather the retaliation she experienced because of her efforts to stop it that convinced a jury to award her more than $1 million. Long before her case made it to a courtroom, Kaiser appealed it to the highest state officials asking them to put an end to it.
With her husband Dan by her side, Kaiser told us how she got a law degree and a master’s degree in public administration before becoming a DCI agent.
“I think we were a little more challenged in the sense, ‘Can this girl prove herself? Is she worth of being part of the team?'” Kaiser said.
But prove herself she did. After eight years of promotions and positive performance reviews, a Brown County Sheriff’s Deputy who worked on the drug task force with her began acting inappropriately.
“He talked to me in graphic detail about having sex with his wife. He asked me if I was horny when I was pregnant. It just continued and continued,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser says she first spoke to Ross Erickson two weeks after his behavior, which included inappropriate touching, escalated.
“I don’t get offended by the locker room talk and dirty jokes. I don’t. But when you make it about me, make comments about my body I do take offense. When you make it personal, I take it personal. So if we just have that boundary understanding, we’re fine. And it progressively got worse from there,” Kaiser said.
So Kaiser confided in a fellow DCI agent Mark Black, who asked if she wanted his help. But she decided to handle Erickson on her own.
“I explained to him that his comments and physical touching was not okay and I was very uncomfortable with it and his response was, ‘That’s just how I am.’ I said, ‘I know and that’s not okay and I need it to stop.’ He apologized,” Kaiser said.
But Kaiser said Black had told everyone in the small office what had happened. When Erickson denied it, Black and all the other men in the office got together to talk about it.
“Number one they didn’t trust me. Number two they didn’t want to work with me and there I was mentally ill. Then they called my supervisor and said, ‘We’re done.” They then called my supervisor and said, ‘We’re done. We will not work with her anymore,'” Kaiser said.
Kaiser didn’t know her supervisor had met with her male coworkers when he called her in and told her he thought she had made up the whole thing.
“He told me this could lead to my termination. He made that abundantly clear. He told me no one wanted to work with me anymore and I asked him, I pleaded with him to please tell me why–what have I done? And he said, ‘I don’t know; maybe go have a beer or ten with them,'” Kaiser said.
But it’s what happened next that is the basis of Kaiser’s lawsuit and why the jury awarded her more than $1 million.
On Wednesday night, Kaiser will tell us how she was demoted and transferred after she reported the harassment and how state leaders denied her grievances about it. Plus, we ask Attorney General Marty Jackley why he didn’t stop the retaliation and restore her position.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
13 women have become DCI agents.