MADISON — Wisconsin taxpayers spent $75,000 to resolve a sexual harassment and racial discrimination complaint against Milwaukee city Treasurer Spencer Coggs that was lodged by a woman who worked for Coggs when he was a state senator, settlement documents show.
According to the documents, which were obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel , an administrative law judge in 2015 found there was probable cause to believe that Jana Williams, who now goes by the name Jana Harris, was discriminated against because of her race and gender. Both Harris and Coggs are African-American. She filed the complaint in 2011 with the state’s Equal Rights Division.
“Coggs both tolerated and contributed to the creation of a hostile work environment in his office that consisted of both verbal and physical gestures directed at Williams because of her sex, race and color,” wrote the judge, Deborah Little Cohn.
Coggs, who left the state Senate after he was elected city treasurer in 2012, issued a statement Monday saying he was innocent and did not participate in the settlement discussions.
“In over 35 years in public office, at no time have I engaged in or condoned behavior which could be viewed as harassment or discrimination with respect to the complainant or anyone else who has worked for me,” he said.
But according to Little Cohn’s findings, Coggs once asked Harris if she was “showing more cleavage lately” and said her breasts “were a distraction in the office.” Coggs also said Harris should cover up by wearing a jacket because she worked with men, according to Little Cohn’s findings.
In another instance, Coggs asked Harris if she had “a taste for white meat” when she and a white co-worker asked to take the same day off. Coggs also criticized Harris’ appearance — once saying she was not “black enough.”
Coggs said Harris was fired because her position was eliminated after Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2010 and Democrats needed to cut staff. The state did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
Harris did not respond to the newspapers’ requests for comment.