As the Illinois primary race for governor heats up, one leading candidate has been slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit alleging that he repeatedly hit on and sexually harassed several male staffers.
Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, currently favored as runner-up in the Illinois gubernatorial election, has been accused of repeatedly sexually harassing Treasury department employee Ed Michalowski in a lawsuit filed Monday. Michalowski, who resigned from his job for fear of reprisal, claims in his lawsuit that Rutherford sexually harassed him a number of times throughout his three years in the Treasury department.
One incident described in the lawsuit claims that Michalowski, 43, and Rutherford, 58, were attending the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, when Rutherford invited Michalowski back to his hotel room and became angry when Michalowski refused.
“After the reception, Rutherford grabbed [Michalowski’s] arm and asked Plaintiff to go up to his hotel room,” the lawsuit alleges. When Michalowski denied, Rutherford allegedly became angry and replied, “You just said no to the Treasurer.”
Another incident claims that in August 2011, Rutherford approached Michalowski at a Springfield bar and told him, “If you go home with me, you can have anything you want in the office.” Other allegations in the lawsuit allege that at various times, Rutherford has offered Michalowski a “full body massage” and told him to wear a tank top to the office.
Michalowski’s lawsuit also accuses Kyle Ham, Rutherford’s chief of staff and Michalowski’s boss, of pushing Michalowski, who leans Democrat, to perform political functions to keep his job. The lawsuit also claims that when Michalowski complained to Ham of being sexually harassed, he wrote it off, saying that the same thing happened to him and that “At least we have job security.”
Ham allegedly told Michalowski that he is “not a team player” for reporting the harassment and that “Josh Lanning has the worst job and you should feel lucky.” Josh Lanning, as reported last week by the Sun Times, is Rutherford’s executive assistant, who traveled with him abroad for some 30 days in 2013.
At a press conference on Monday, Rutherford denied sexually harassing any members of his staff, telling Chicago Tribune reporters, “I strongly deny any, any inappropriate conduct, regardless of the date.”
Rutherford insisted that the timing of the lawsuit, just weeks before the Republican primary, was questionable and that “this thing smells of politics.” Though Rutherford says he does not have “direct evidence,” he believes fellow Republican candidate Bruce Rauner has a hand in the lawsuit.
At the press conference, Rutherford also produced a piece of evidence that he says exonerates him from at least one claim of harassment leveled by Michalowski.
Michalowski’s lawsuit describes an incident in which he accompanied Rutherford to his home in Chenoa, about 100 miles south of Chicago, for an “overnight retreat” to discuss which of Rutherford’s donors should join advisory boards for the treasurer’s office. Michalowski says he was the only staffer present at the retreat and that after dinner, he retired alone to a guest bedroom. Soon after, Rutherford allegedly “entered [Michalowski’s] bedroom and grabbed at [Michalowski’s] genital area.
“[Michalowski] immediately forced Rutherford off him,” the lawsuit continues, and “gathered his belongings and left.”
At the Monday news conference, Rutherford produced a travel voucher for that day detailing that Michalowski left Rutherford’s home at 4 p.m. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Michalowski claimed that he was embarrassed about the encounter and filled out his travel voucher incorrectly.
“Rutherford told him the state day ended at 2 p.m. ‘put that down on your voucher’ because we don’t want to be charged for the whole day,” Michalowski‘s lawyer Christine Svenson told the Sun Times. “He was also embarrassed to say on his form that he got back at midnight or 2 in the morning to say what happened to him. The guy was so humiliated by this.”
Svenson also claimed that Michalowski, who filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and is going through a divorce, is not pursuing the lawsuit for financial reasons. State records show that Michalowski was paid $97,232 in 2013, and Svenson claims Michalowski’s new job pays him six figures.
Eric Brown is an IBTimes political reporter who eats far too much pizza. He is a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and currently resides in Brooklyn.