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Dayton on sex harassment: 'I don't think you can prevent people from misbehaving, but there should be consequences'

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton listens to a reporter's question Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — In his first public remarks about the growing sexual harassment scandals sweeping through the Capitol, Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that though sexual harassment is a "pervasive" problem throughout society, "there should be consequences — swift and consistent consequences."

The comments came in response to a reporter asking about how to "change the culture" that many have cited as allowing men to act in inappropriate — or worse — ways toward women they have power over.

Dayton, who was vacationing out of state when allegations surfaced against two state lawmakers — Sen. Dan Schoen and Rep. Tony Cornish — said he's ordered his senior Cabinet members to review sexual harassment policies to prevent "atrocities" such as the alleged lewd acts and messages by Schoen and Cornish.

But the problem also runs into the halls of regular state government workers, where supervisors found to have harassed subordinates appear to be dealt with inconsistently across various state departments, according to Dayton and a published report.

An examination by MinnPost of 20 substantiated sexual harassment cases from 2013 to 2016 — cases that ranged from sexually explicit remarks to workplace groping — revealed that the process of investigating, the discipline of the perpetrator, and the treatment of the accuser can vary widely from case to case, sometimes with the accuser — the victim — feeling disciplined.

State departments are under the direction of the governor, and Dayton acknowledged a problem.

"Our employees in the executive branch, the legislative and judicial branches deserve, just as our citizens do, a safe and constructive working environment, and obviously that's failed to (have been) provided in the Legislature, and reports are that it has not been provided consistently in the executive branch," Dayton said. "And I've asked Commissioner (of Minnesota Management and Budget Myron) Franz to review this with a small group of agency heads with him, a very quick review, of what we can do better in state government to provide rapid and effective and consistent response to anyone who's encountered these kinds of atrocities. There's no place for them in the workplace, in government or anywhere else in Minnesota, and we need to do a better job of standing up for those who are being oppressed."

Dayton has called on both Cornish and Schoen to resign, but neither has. He said he has not attempted to speak to either personally.

Dayton said he's not aware of any allegations against any other lawmakers.