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House committee to investigate Missouri Department of Corrections over harassment claims

Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

A special legislative committee will look into allegations of harassment and discrimination within the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The investigation follows a report by The Pitch, a Kansas City-based, weekly newspaper, that from 2012 to 2016 the state paid $7.5 million to former employees in settlement payments and court judgments. 

The employees alleged in lawsuits that they had been sexually harassed by supervisors and co-workers, and threatened with retaliation for filing complaints about the abuse.

"The harassment that has been uncovered within the department is completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated," House Speaker Todd Richardson said in a written statement. "With a new governor and a new department director, I am confident we will see positive changes within the department, but the people of Missouri still deserve answers as to how this kind of environment was allowed to exist."

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, will chair the House subcommittee on Corrections, Workforce Environment and Conduct.

"We will be calling in different people to testify; our whole mission will be to review our policies and procedures on how these things are handled from a work environment standpoint," Hansen said. "Nobody should have to work in a hostile work environment, so our goal [is] to review what procedures we have in place and what changes we need to make this work environment the way it should be for all employees in Corrections."

Among those who are scheduled to testify is acting Corrections Director Anne Precythe, Gov. Eric Greitens' choice to head the department. Hansen also plans to call former employees to testify.

"After we're done, our job will be to make recommendations to the speaker and the new director on what we think they should do," Hansen said. "Then they can take our recommendations and that information that we gather and act on it."

The committee will not have the authority to subpoena witnesses or indict anyone of wrongdoing.

So far, there are no plans to call former corrections director George Lombardi to appear before the committee. He resigned this month.

No meetings have been scheduled yet for the new committee.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.