Probe: Nebraska lawmaker’s behavior wasn’t sexual harassment

Apr 14, 2022, 11:30 AM | Updated: 12:19 pm
FILE- Former state Sen. Mike Groene, of North Platte, Neb., speaks during a second round debate on ...

FILE- Former state Sen. Mike Groene, of North Platte, Neb., speaks during a second round debate on budget bills, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, in Lincoln, Neb. The state lawmaker who resigned amid allegations that he took photos of a female staffer in his office without her permission acted in a "boorish, brainless and bizarre" manner but did not commit unlawful sexual discrimination or harassment, according to a legislative report released Tuesday, April 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik_File)

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik_File)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska state lawmaker who resigned after admitting that he took photos of a female subordinate in his office without her permission acted in a “boorish, brainless and bizarre” manner but did not commit illegal sexual discrimination or harassment, according to an investigator hired by the Legislature.

In a report released Wednesday, the investigator concluded that former state Sen. Mike Groene’s behavior was “wholly unprofessional and inappropriate” and that he would have faced disciplinary action in a private-sector job.

“Mr. Groene’s actions can best be described as boorish, brainless and bizarre, especially for the workplace,” the investigator, Lincoln attorney Tara Paulson, wrote in her report. But she added that his conduct “does not constitute unlawful discrimination or harassment.”

Groene resigned in February after admitting that he took the photos of a female staffer. Groene, a blunt-spoken, often abrasive Republican who clashed with Democratic colleagues, also ended his candidacy to become a University of Nebraska Regent.

Paulson said she reviewed more than 50 pages of screenshots that Groene’s former staffer had taken with her phone of the photographs she found while organizing Groene’s laptop files. Paulson said the staffer was fully clothed in every photograph, and most were taken while she was talking or gesturing.

The report said Groene emailed the photos to himself with cryptic subject lines such as “Inmd pic,” “Inmdsm,” “PAGEBOY,” “BLONDE” and “LEGS.” It said one email had a subject line of “Rear tight,” with an image that appeared to have been zoomed in on the staffer’s buttocks.

Paulson said in her report that she found no evidence that Groene had shared the photos with others, although Groene has admitted that he sent some of the photos to his wife.

But she said she didn’t have access to Groene’s laptop because of an ongoing Nebraska State Patrol investigation into the same allegations. She said she could reopen her investigation and change her conclusions if new evidence surfaces.

Paulson’s report cited federal and state laws that define unlawful harassment as “hostile work environment” harassment and “quid pro quo” harassment.

The report said hostile work environment harassment comes in the form of unwanted sexual advances, sexually abusive language or other behavior that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employee’s response to unwelcome sexual conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions.

The staffer who was photographed, Kristina Konecko, said she didn’t feel comfortable commenting about the report yet because of the ongoing Nebraska State Patrol probe.

In a statement, she said: “I appreciate and am grateful to Mr. Groene hiring me all those years ago. Earning his trust was like a badge of honor for me. Filing the complaint was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It was like betraying a friend.”

Konecko, who consented to being named in the story, told The Associated Press previously that no one pressured her to come forward with the complaint against Groene or tried to stop her.

Witnesses told Paulson that Groene later admitted that his behavioral was inappropriate and that he regretted his actions. Groene has previously said he apologized to Konecko and had a cordial, professional relationship with her.

Groene declined to participate in the investigation. But he said in a statement that he regretted resigning and that his reputation had “been drug through the mud in a political witch hunt.”

“The legislative report confirmed what I said from the beginning,” Groene said. “I did nothing unlawful. In no manner did I harass employee. All photos on my computer were never shared and all were taken in a public setting.”

___

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Probe: Nebraska lawmaker’s behavior wasn’t sexual harassment