HARRISBURG — Nearly 600 sexual harassment and workplace misconduct claims were reported by Pennsylvania state employees over the last five years, costing taxpayers upward of $1.9 million but resulting in very few referrals to law enforcement, according to a new report.
The study, conducted by the nonpartisan Joint State Government Commission and released Tuesday, revealed a patchwork of policies and definitions related to inappropriate behavior that make it difficult to compare agencies or draw many conclusions from the totals.
The Department of Corrections, which has about 15,000 employees, reported the most complaints, 130 during fiscal years 2013 to 2018. The Liquor Control Board, which employs about 3,100 employees, reported 64 complaints during that time, tied for second highest across state government.
Only three of the total 597 complaints were referred to law enforcement, none in the executive branch, the report said.
A single complaint reported by the Department of Revenue accounted for nearly half of total payouts, costing taxpayers in excess of $900,000. In that case, a longtime employee claimed a mid-level supervisor, Albert Forlizzi II of Harrisburg, harassed her, sexually assaulted her, and subjected her to racial slurs, including references to slavery. He later pleaded no contest to criminal charges and received probation.
The report itself did not include details about any incident.
A group of House Republicans requested the report last year as the Capitol grappled with sexual misconduct scandals in the wake of the #MeToo movement, prompting calls for stronger protections for harassment victims. The lawmakers said they intended to use the report’s findings to identify problem areas and craft legislation to fix them. None returned calls for comment Tuesday on the report or what, if anything, they would do next.
A number of states have conducted such reviews, with some leading to new policies. Earlier this year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy — his own administration mired in controversy over accusations of sexual assault against one of his former officials — announced a series of new measures intended to improve the handling of sexual harassment allegations, including clarifying the definition of sexual assault.
The Pennsylvania commission stopped short of firm recommendations, instead offering suggestions for how various agencies should consider improving. Those suggestions ranged from expanding policies to account for harassment via social media, banning fraternization between supervisors and direct reports, and requiring that third-party witnesses to harassment be mandated to report it.
The commission said only some agencies have policies to protect employees from harassment by contractors or other third-party workers. A few agencies allow for an employee’s personnel record to be wiped clean if they are involved in a single incident of harassment and do not commit further offenses within a certain time period.