Woman says she was victim, not enabler, of Iowa agency boss misconduct
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa official who failed to report sexual misconduct by her powerful boss says she stayed quiet because she feared retaliation and didn’t want to share her experience as one of his victims.
Tara Lawrence, director of the Iowa Title Guaranty program, said she suffered “very uncomfortable” harassment by Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison. She told The Associated Press that Jamison showed her photographs of nude women, commented on her body and quizzed her about her sex life during meetings and work trips.
Lawrence criticized Gov. Kim Reynolds for commissioning a report that she says portrays her as an enabler of Jamison, one of the governor’s longtime friends and advisers, instead of a victim.
“My name has been run through the mud, and I’ve been used as a pawn,” Lawrence said, tearing up as she became the first Jamison accuser to speak publicly.
She noted she is a Republican who supports Reynolds’ campaign and went to law school with Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.
“I support them. But I don’t support what’s being done to me. I’m not out to get the governor but I don’t think this is fair,” she said.
An investigation by a Des Moines law firm concluded that Lawrence and finance authority lobbyist Wes Peterson were aware of “egregious” wrongdoing by Jamison, including a December 2016 incident in which he grabbed a coworker’s breasts in front of them at a bar. The report concluded the two failed to report the assault and noted that Lawrence declined to speak with investigators, who found Jamison had harassed at least three other subordinates to different degrees.
Peterson was terminated Thursday, while Lawrence said she learned she will stay in her job without discipline. Peterson’s attorney, Patrick White, said the report contains unspecified “inaccuracies” that reflect poorly on his client and led to his termination.
Lawrence said nobody reported Jamison because his relationship with the governor made him seem untouchable politically and able to “get things done.”
“His behavior was so persistent and so pervasive,” she said. “There was a culture of accepting it.”
Jamison didn’t return messages seeking comment. He has generally denied harassment allegations.
Reynolds, who is seeking a four-year term in November against Democrat Fred Hubbell, has said the report backs her decision in March to fire Jamison once she received complaints. Democrats have accused her of empowering Jamison through their longtime friendship and failing to uncover his misconduct earlier.
Reynolds ordered the investigation amid questions about her handling of the case. She said Friday the investigation uncovered ambiguity in the procedures for reporting misconduct by agency directors, and that will be clarified.
Lawrence, 34, said she chose not to speak with investigator Mark Weinhardt because she wasn’t ready to describe her treatment by Jamison. She said she was stunned when her decision was portrayed as a lack of cooperation and evidence she was covering up wrongdoing.
“They’ve painted me as this monster,” she said. “I don’t have anything to hide. I am not protecting Dave Jamison.”
Through tears, the mother of two added: “I thought by not providing my personal experience, I could protect my family, my co-workers and my staff and not pile on IFA.”
Weinhardt said he told Lawrence when they met for a voluntary interview that she could share details of any harassment confidentially, but that he also wanted to ask her about Jamison’s behavior toward the two complainants. Weinhardt said Thursday that Lawrence declined to speak about any topic, saying she “anticipated litigation.”
Lawrence said she would consider legal action only if she were terminated, but she’s trying to avoid that. She said state officials assured her she will keep her job running Iowa Title Guaranty, which sells title insurance to property owners and lenders. The job paid $122,000 last year and she oversees 20 employees.
Lawrence said she attended meetings with state officials Wednesday and Friday where she answered questions and expressed frustration with the report. She said they are considering her request to reopen the investigation and revise the report, which she said “was defamatory toward me.”
Lawrence said she was “ashamed and embarrassed” that she drank too much on the night of the 2016 groping incident, but that she was harassed that evening as well. The report quotes a witness saying Lawrence could barely walk after she, Jamison and others were taking shots of liquor, and that Jamison had to walk Lawrence back to her hotel room.
Lawrence was hired by the program in 2012 and promoted by Jamison to interim director in 2015, then permanent director. Jamison’s behavior got progressively worse, she said.
Jamison, 60, showed her photos of topless women on his cellphone on multiple occasions while they were riding in a car, and she recalled trying to brush him off and change the subject. She said the most uncomfortable experiences came when he asked about her sexual preferences and history and commented on her body.
Employees told Weinhardt that Jamison made joking remarks about Lawrence’s sex life after she returned from her honeymoon.