While sexual harassment has been a big issue in the news of late, former DCI agent Laura Kaiser says her case wasn’t about sexual harassment, but rather retaliation after she reported it.
A jury has awarded Kaiser $1.2 million dollars in damages.
Tuesday night we brought you the first part of Kaiser’s exclusive interview with KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke.
Kaiser told us how she was harassed by a Brown County Sheriff’s Deputy who served with her on the drug task force. But when she confided in a female colleague what was going on, this was her advice.
“She told me don’t do anything, don’t say anything because you will become the problem. And I knew; I knew she was right. But I couldn’t tolerate those working conditions and I knew I needed to stand up and say something,” Laura Kaiser said.
Angela picks up the story from there with what happened after Kaiser did speak to others about the harassment.
Laura Kaiser along with her husband Dan, who is a state representative, sat down to tell us what they’ve been unable to speak publicly about for six years, due to the ongoing lawsuit.
“If my career was going to be lost, it needed to be for a good reason and I think it has been. And the reason is, victims need to know they have a voice,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser says fellow DCI agent Mark Black and others in the office accused her of being a liar after Brown County Deputy Ross Erickson denied the harassment. Then, Kaiser’s supervisor met with the men first and later confronted her.
“He said, ‘Well your story doesn’t add up. I’m having trouble believing your allegations. Because I’ve already talked to everybody involved in this this morning and they’re all telling me a different story than what you’ve said.'”
So Kaiser was put on on a work improvement plan.
Kaiser: The day I was put on the work improvement plan, i apologized to Ross.
Kennecke: You apologized to the man who sexually harassed you?
Kaiser: They told me Ross was on the fence as to whether or not he would work with me anymore.
Kaiser was able to complete all the steps in her work improvement plan except one–rebuilding a positive relationship with her coworkers who shunned her.
So she was demoted and against her wishes transferred to Pierre, which meant leaving her baby and husband behind in Aberdeen.
Kaiser: But I went.
Kaiser: Because I had faith the DCI, because they had always been in my mind–the elite. And that’s their very function–to protect victims; to give a voice to victims and I believed that at some point they had to stop and say wait a minute, this isn’t right.
Kaiser filed grievances with leaders of the DCI, but they were denied. She even met with Attorney General Marty Jackley over her demotion and transfer.
“And I asked him to please make it right. And I believe it was within two days he denied my grievance.”
Jackley now says at the time of his denial, he wasn’t getting all the information from Agent Mark Black — who can be seen here during the appeal of his termination before the Supreme Court.
Jackley says Black was fired for several reasons, including his involvement in Kaiser’s case.
“But I don’t think that should reflect on the agency. That was one DCI agent that should have done better; I think that should have done better with reporting into this; should have done better with investigating into this. And I want to be fair, the Deputy Sheriff that had done inappropriate touching didn’t necessarily state everything initially,” Attorney General Marty Jackley said.
Kaiser now hopes the jury verdict in her favor sends a strong message that victims need to be believed.
“I’m here to speak for my sisters in law enforcement and to the other women and any other victim of sexual harassment to let them know you don’t have to put up with sexual harassment, but most importantly do not be in fear or the retaliation,” Laura Kaiser said.
“Their goal was to make her go away. She didn’t go away. No, she did the right thing,” Dan Kaiser said.
Attorney General Marty Jackley says he plans to meet with the attorneys on both sides of the case to determine any more appropriate action, including the possibility of an appeal by the state. A judge will also consider ordering the state to pay Kaiser’s attorney fees as well as loss of benefits and retirement money after she left her job. That’s in addition to the $1.2 million she was awarded for emotional distress and back pay.