State Rep. Dan Eaton accused of harassing female State House workers

  • Dan Eaton

Monitor staff
Published: 8/10/2018 2:44:48 PM

Rep. Daniel Eaton, a longstanding Democratic representative in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, has been accused of harassing a legislative employee for at least a year, documents and a source familiar with the behavior say.

In an April 26 complaint made to House Chief of Staff Terry Pfaff, a female member of staff said that Eaton had “exhibited a pattern of behavior which has led to a hostile work environment.”

Eaton had repeatedly made derogatory comments about the staffer’s age and gender, calling her “the granny in the corner” and “the old bat,” and had sought to undermine her authority before other staff members, the complaint said. The behavior served “to create a work environment that is meant to be intimidating and abusive,” the staffer said in the complaint.

Eaton, a top member of the House Finance Committee, is serving his 14th term in the legislative body. He was not immediately reachable by phone or email Friday.

The allegations were first made public as part of a series of records relating to harassment allegations that Pfaff released to reporters last week, but the names of those accused of harassment and those making the complaints were blacked out.

Despite the redactions, New Hampshire Public Radio first named Eaton as the subject of one of the complaints on Thursday. The Monitor has since independently confirmed his identity through a person familiar with the complaint. 

‘I’m male – and I suck’

According to a series of memos written by Pfaff to document his investigation, the staff person first alerted House leadership to the problem on April 27 after an incident in her office.

A day earlier, Eaton entered the office and addressed his comment to another representative in the room. “If you want to have a fun day, just walk into the room and tell (redacted) ‘I’m male – and I suck.’ Because she hates all men.”

The staffer took issue with the comment, walking over to Eaton and asking him “What?” according to the complaint. 

“I’m just messing with you,” he replied to her.

“Yes, you are,” she said and left the room, according to the memo.

A different staff person in the room overheard the comments and said they were “totally inappropriate, immature, and a clearly uncomfortable situation,” the complainant wrote.

But the experience was nothing new for her. Similar comments, made both when she was in the room and when she was not, had “been ongoing for more than a year.”

“This is just one incident in a long pattern of behavior that has made me feel uncomfortable,” she wrote. 

Eaton had made disparaging remarks in front of other staff members and in front of guests, the staffer reported. In a later memo, other staffers interviewed by Pfaff confirmed the comments, adding that the representative had called the complainant the “old ogre.”

The complainant was at the end of her patience. “If this continues, my next step will be to seek legal counsel,” she wrote to Pfaff.

‘Good natured’ teasing

Pfaff quickly took action. He interviewed fellow staff members and lawmakers who confirmed the comments and history behind them.

And he set up a meeting with Eaton himself, several days after receiving the complaint. Joined by House Counsel Jim Cianci, Pfaff presented to Eaton the staffer’s complaints, said there were witnesses in the room that had confirmed the account, and mentioned the accusations of a pattern of behavior.

Eaton did not deny making the comment, telling Pfaff and Cianci that the complaint “probably was” an accurate representation of his words. But Eaton gave a wholly different interpretation of the hostile relationship, calling it “good-natured” teasing.

“Rep. (redacted) wanted it known that their banter had gone on for a long time, good-natured, like a brother and sister,” Pfaff wrote, referring to Eaton. “On the day in question, he admitted to being ‘pissed’ with her because he felt (redacted) intervened on a piece of legislation. He also said he had taken allergy drugs which could have contributed to his behavior that day.”

At one point during the investigation, Pfaff asked the staffer making the complaint if she wanted to take the matter to the Legislative Ethics Committee, a closed-door process that can lead to further disciplinary action. She said she wanted to wait out the results of the investigation instead. 

In the end, after a seven-minute conversation with Pfaff and Cianci, Eaton promised the behavior would stop and that “there would be no retribution” against the staffer for making the complaint, according to the memos.

He also agreed to “consider” a recommendation that he attend a harassment awareness training session through the state’s Employee Assistance Program, normally intended for employees. It is unknown whether he attended.

Pfaff later called back the complainant. “I asked (the complainant) if this would be an acceptable resolution for her and she said it would,” he wrote on May 1. The entire matter took six days.

No comments

Speaking Friday, House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, declined to weigh in on the complaints against Eaton, saying he could “neither confirm nor deny the allegations about any individuals.”

Even if he were aware, Shurtleff said any form of discipline should be handled by the Speaker’s office. 

“If anybody came to me about anybody, I’d do what I can do, but this is an issue that really needs to come out of the Speaker’s office,” he said. “It’s the Speaker who represents the whole body in that position.”

Speaker Gene Chandler was not available for comment Friday; a spokesman for the House, Jim Rivers, declined to comment on the reporting surrounding Eaton’s case.

“We can’t comment on an unknown person confirming someone’s name (in the memos),” Rivers said. “Those names were redacted for a reason.”

For now, any real accountability for accused harassers in New Hampshire must come from the ballot box. For his part, Eaton faces no primary challengers for his one-seat district in Cheshire County. And his Republican challenger, Robert D’Arcy, lost an earlier bid against Eaton by nine points in 2016.

Still, without addressing Eaton’s charges directly, Shurtleff said the rules that govern how State House harassment complaints are made – and when they are made public – should be changed.

To start, he said, the process should require complaints go straight to the Legislative Ethics Committee rather than to the Chief of Staff first, to allow for a more structured hearing process free from any political interference.

And, he added, House leadership should be more open to releasing the names of lawmakers accused of harassment.

Under the present House harassment policy, complaints made to the House chief of staff must be “handled as confidentially as possible,” and  Pfaff and Cianci have interpreted the rule to mean blacking out the names of any harassers when making public memos detailing the investigations.

Shurtleff said that rule should be modified. “I think that we honestly need to look at this issue in the next session. Unless a person is arrested, we don’t know who was involved in any complaint.”

One approach, he said: releasing the names of lawmakers who have admitted to their behavior during the course of the investigation. “If the individual who was charged with acting in an inappropriate manner or doing something beyond the pale, if there’s a finding that’s true, then I think that the name should be made public.”

Bipartisan efforts to enact change have sputtered in recent months. For now, Shurtleff said, lawmakers would have to wait until next session. 

“Those are our rules and we have to live by them,” he said. “I don’t think they’re right, they’ll change, and they should.”

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