Senator accuses Lucido of harassment as #MeToo reckoning hits Michigan Capitol

Sen. Mallory McMorrow speaks with reporters on Jan. 21 after filing a sexual harassment complaint against Sen. Peter Lucido. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

LANSING — Women in and around the Michigan Legislature are taking on what they call an “old boys’ club” culture at the state Capitol that has allowed sexually inappropriate behavior to persist despite a national #MeToo movement.

And state Sen. Peter Lucido, a Shelby Township Republican who chairs two powerful committees and has openly expressed an interest in running for governor in 2022, is in the middle of the firestorm. 

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, on Tuesday filed a sexual harassment complaint against Lucido, alleging he placed his hand on her lower back, scanned her body with his eyes and commented on her looks during an orientation session two days after they both won election in November 2018.

“He shook my hand, put a hand on the low of my back, grazing my hip and upper rear, and held it there,” McMorrow told reporters. “He asked who I had run against. I said I beat my opponent. And his response was, ‘I could see why.’”

Sen. Peter Lucido, a Shelby Township Republican who chairs two powerful committees, has openly expressed an interest in running for governor in 2022. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin) 

In a text message to a Bridge Magazine reporter, Lucido “categorically” denied the allegation. 

McMorrow, a 33-year-old lawmaker, said her orientation experience with Lucido was “deflating” and made her feel like “meat,” but she did not go public until this week in a Crain’s Detroit interview. 

McMorrow said she was inspired to tell her story after reading last week’s first-person account by 22-year-old Michigan Advance journalist Allison Donahue, who was trying to interview Lucido last week when he reportedly told her she could “have a lot of fun” with a group of schoolboys visiting the Michigan Capitol. 

“Or they could have a lot of fun with you,” the 59-year-old lawmaker told Donahue, according to an account she published on the progressive political news site. The post  made national news and has prompted several current and former legislative staffers to describe similar experiences in Lansing.

“I felt a little bit of responsibility for not having said something sooner,” McMorrow said Tuesday. “I made the calculus for my own reasons and for my career, and it just made me think… how many other women make the same calculus and don’t say something.”

Lucido last week apologized “for offending Allison Donahue” and called it a “misunderstanding,” but he later claimed he was misquoted.  Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, asked the Senate Business Office to launch a sexual harassment investigation. 

Lucido said Tuesday morning he believes McMorrow's allegation is "completely untrue and politically motivated.”

But a second lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Rosemary Bayer of Beverly Hills, said she saw Lucido put his hand on McMorrow’s back during the November 2018 orientation. And McMorrow’s husband confirmed to Crain’s that she told him about it at the time.

“I couldn’t tell how far down [his hand] went,” Bayer told Bridge Magazine. “I wasn’t looking for problems in that way. But it did occur to me when all of this happened that I should have gone over there and rescued her.”

The daylong Senate orientation included sexual harassment training, and Bayer also accused Lucido of “behaving badly” during that session. He started “strutting around the room” during the harassment training and suggested the culture in Lansing is “just the way it is” and wasn’t going to change any time soon, she recalled. 

Bayer said she hopes the complaints against Lucido will be a “wake-up” call at the Michigan Capitol. 

“There’s still that old boys' club feel, and it’s time to change it,” she said. “I’m really in awe of both Allison and Mallory for speaking out like that, because it is so hard when you’re young… and facing potential damage to your career.”

Speaking out

Donahue’s post last week prompted several other women to speak out about their experiences at the male-dominated Michigan Capitol. 

“Sen. Lucido’s comments to [Donahue] are a prime example of the sexism and harassment my female colleagues and I face on a daily basis,” state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, wrote on Twitter.  “It isn’t a joke and it isn’t funny. It’s toxic. I applaud Allison for having the courage to call out his indefensible comments.”

Emily Schwarzkopf, a former staffer for House Democrats who now works for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, posted a response thread on Twitter and said there were “multiple times when comments were made to me or about me in the same vein” as Lucido’s reported comments to Donahue. 

“As a staffer, you face a choice,” Schwarzkopf wrote. “Do I tell someone about the comments made by legislators, lobbyists, & fellow staffers? At the risk of being alienated, being a snitch, or having your career stifled. No, you put your head down, do your work, & suck it up."

At least two other former staffers responded to the thread with similar accounts, and Schwarzkopf told Bridge Magazine that others reached out and privately thanked her.

“I didn’t want (Donahue) to feel like her interaction was unique,” Schwarzkopf, 31, said Tuesday. “A lot of things you saw in response were like ‘no one is surprised by this’ but kind of like #MeToo hasn’t come to Lansing.”

Female staffers work in a culture where they’re warned about men they should avoid, Schwarzkopf said, noting that when she first started at the Legislature in 2013, her boss told her somebody she shouldn’t go into an elevator with alone. 

“I have my own little group of girlfriends who came from the Legislature, and I think we’ve all been gathering and saying these things or sharing these things,” she said. "But I think Allison really gave people a venue to talk more openly about it, and I hope the Legislature will react accordingly.”

Molly Korn, a staffer who now works for McMorrow, wrote last week on Twitter that “the legislature is not a safe space for women, & until there are real consequences for the sexism & misogyny displayed it will continue to feel degrading to work here. Sen. Lucido should be stripped of his chairmanship. The only way to stop the abuse of power is to take it away.”

Female candidates scored major wins in Michigan’s 2018 elections, including a clean sweep at the top of the ticket by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. But the Legislature remains heavily male. 

There are currently 11 women serving in the 38-member Michigan Senate and 42 women serving in the 110-member House. Women make up 51 percent of the state’s population but hold 36 percent of seats in the Legislature. 

That’s up from 20 percent in 2016.

“You can’t pretend we’re not here anymore,” Bayer said, noting women now make up half of the Senate Democratic caucus. “You can’t pretend we don’t matter. We do.” 

A Senate investigation

The Senate Business Office is expected to investigate both sexual harassment allegations against Lucido, and Shirkey plans to retain outside attorneys to assist that effort, spokeswoman Amber McCann said Tuesday. 

The Michigan Legislature is not subject to public records requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, so while the results of the investigations will be released at a later date, details will not. Shirkey plans to wait on the outcome before deciding any potential punishments for Lucido. 

“My hope is that the way we gauge how effective people are changes,” said McMorrow, who last week unsuccessfully asked the MIRS subscription news site to recind the “Senator of the Year” award it gave Lucido. “But beyond that , the specific reactions to this are really up to leadership in the Senate Business Office.”

Nationally, roughly 100 state lawmakers have resigned, been removed from office, faced discipline or been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since the beginning of 2017, according to a running tally by the Associated Press.  More than 100 pieces of legislation related to sexual harassment were introduced in 2019, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

McCann said she believes the Michigan Senate investigation is the first of its kind since the Business Office dismissed 2016 and 2017 gender discrimination complaints filed by two female Democratic staffers who alleged a “toxic” work environment.  One of the women later said it felt like the Senate did the “bare minimum” to avoid legal liability.

Each term, senators and staff members must participate in a “pretty thorough and exhaustive” sexual harassment training that can last multiple hours, McCann said, noting there are additional “opportunities’ to access online training materials. Senators and staff were reminded of the sexual harassment policy last week, she said. 

“It’s not a culture that we want to see in the Senate,” McCann said. “It is nothing the Majority Leader would support and condone, and every person should feel free to come forward if they have any issue, and make it known and it will be thoroughly reviewed.”

Legislative rules adopted last year make clear that “sexual harassment of Senators and Senate employees is prohibited and will not be tolerated” and direct the Senate Business Office to establish an enforcement policy. 

“I’m glad they’re in place,” McMorrow said of the rules. “But part of the reason that I did want to talk about this publicly is because if the system as it operates was completely functional, the stories that I hear everyday from staffers and from people who work around here wouldn’t exist. I’m hoping to elevate that and change it.”

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Tue, 01/21/2020 - 9:52am

Umm, yeah.

So, she waited this long after orientation before making this accusation???

Is there anyone else who can coorberate this?

Karen Dunnam
Tue, 01/21/2020 - 7:08pm

"Is there anyone else who can coorberate [sic] this?"
From the article:
... a second lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Rosemary Bayer of Beverly Hills, said she saw Lucido put his hand on McMorrow’s back during the November 2018 orientation. And McMorrow’s husband confirmed to Crain’s that she told him about it at the time.
“I couldn’t tell how far down [his hand] went,” Bayer told Bridge Magazine. “I wasn’t looking for problems in that way. But it did occur to me when all of this happened that I should have gone over there and rescued her.”
The daylong Senate orientation included sexual harassment training, and Bayer also accused Lucido of “behaving badly” during that session. He started “strutting around the room” during the harassment training and suggested the culture in Lansing is “just the way it is” and wasn’t going to change any time soon, she recalled.
Bayer said she hopes the complaints against Lucido will be a “wake-up” call at the Michigan Capitol.
“There’s still that old boys' club feel, and it’s time to change it,” she said. “I’m really in awe of both Allison and Mallory for speaking out like that, because it is so hard when you’re young… and facing potential damage to your career.”

Kevin Grand
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 7:17am

Yep, a detail that wasn't there when The Bridge first posted this story, which had been updated several times yesterday.

Let me bottom line it for you Ms. Dunnam, Sen. McMorrow had made a very serious accusation here.

If those charges are true, then they should certainly be dealt with through the proper legal channels.

It also should be pointed out that there are accusers out there who are not above lying to further their own agenda..

Tawana Brawley, Duke Lacrosse and the Brent Kavanaugh debacle are three examples that quickly come to mind.

Just because an accusation has been made, does not automatically mean that it is true.

LLA
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 8:51am

"If those charges are true, then they should certainly be dealt with through the proper legal channels."

Let me bottom line it for you, Mr. Grand: Sen. Lucido faces very serious allegations, which is why the Senate is conducting an investigation. What about this article don't you comprehend? It's important to make sure your read an article prior to commenting.

Anonymous
Fri, 01/24/2020 - 12:32pm

The disappointing thing about all the comments is a lack of recommendations for actions a woman/man should take when they are the target of actions that offend or otherwise violate their person. What should we be teaching our youth to do? We have taught our daughters to immediately react, in this case to push the hand away and if the hand on the back slid to their butt then speak out telling the person to 'get your hand off my butt'. We encourage them to take action as quickly as possible [with the idea, it is better to apologize then to allow what is being done to continue].
What are you thoughts on when and what to do? Why not have a conversation about what to do and when?

Karen Dunnam
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 9:04am

@Kevin Grand --
Thank you for explaining Harassment 101 to me. Where were you in 1978 when a public official propositioned me in front of other staffers?

Rose
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 11:42am

And "just because an accusation has been made, does not automatically mean that it is" false, either. If you have never been subject to this kind of behavior, you have NO clue. Respectfully, men really do not understand (or choose not to). Every woman I know has at least one story like this one, if not more. Please ask the women you know. You may be really shocked by their responses.

Women do tend to let it go in order to get along for the very reason that we tend not be believed and/or we don't want to make waves. We are taught to choke it down and keep moving. No more. Kudos for her speaking out. I hope there is a serious investigation as it sure looks like this is a pattern by Mr Lucido and it sure looks like a toxic work environment to me.

Rick
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 12:50pm

Thanks Kevin for laying out your logic early:
'It also should be pointed out that there are accusers out there who are not above lying to further their own agenda..'
If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem.
You've said where you fit there.

Cecilia
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 1:17pm

Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter that every woman hears when she reads your sparkling comments. Except she's the one laughing.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 01/23/2020 - 7:29am

So, in no particular order...

LLA, YOU should read my comments above before chiming in. An accusations does NOT automatically equate to something actually happening. I cannot make that American Civics 101 fact any more simpler.

Rose, it's so nice to see you chuck due process out the window. So, what time to you intend to build the gallows in front of the Capitol Building and pass summary judgement all on your own, since you have obviously already found Sen Lucido guilty? Please be sure to let everyone here know so that we can all see how well that works for you.

Cecilia, Brent Kavanaugh's political opponents from the democrat party all thought that they would be laughing after they had destroyed him by trotting out stage props making baseless allegations. The link below shows how effective that tactic went. We'll see who is laughing if Sen. McMorrow's allegations are not only proven false, but part of a carefully coordinated political attack against a political opponent.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/23/us/politics/brett-kavanaugh-christine...

Betsy, I never said that you did have to put up with it.

And finally, Ms. Dunnam. Exactly which politician are we talking about here? Representative John Young, Fred Richmond or John Conyers? Was it Sen. Ted Kennedy? Gov. Bill Clinton? Since you are well versed on "Harassment 101", why are you making this accusation on an internet comment forum when you (should) know perfectly well that NOTHING will come of it?

Karen Dunnam
Thu, 01/23/2020 - 11:02am

@Kevin Grand
My own experience was with a municipal official at a regional planning agency. I suppose I could look for an ancient staff directory and figure out who else was present at the event ... but I am not going to defend my statement just to appease a troll on an internet comment forum.
The fact that you are questioning my narrative suggests that you don't take women seriously. You don't know me, or the circumstances (you assumed it was an elected official). My point is: most women have a similar narrative in their history.
You seem awfully defensive of Lucido and his apparent belief that he's entitled to do whatever he wants.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 01/23/2020 - 4:39pm

And you, Ms. Dunnam, have obviously found Sen. Lucido guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. Instead of dealing with facts, would rather just dismiss them outright and label anyone who disagrees with you.

That's so much easier.

So yeah, any further discussion with you here is a waste of time.

Betsy
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 12:21pm

Kevin. Stop.
Yes, she waited that long. She said in the article that once Donohue came forward, she felt a need to address her experience, probably since Lucido is trying to tell Donohue that she's crazy (not those words, but that's the implication).
Women put up with this crap literally all of the time -- you say something immediately and everyone second guesses you (she could have said this immediately and the push back would probably be the same). You wait and everyone questions you. It's a lose lose situation for women. I could relate similar events that occurred outside of the Capitol that involved me in my 20s and 30s. We aren't going to put up with this crap any longer.

Harold
Tue, 01/21/2020 - 10:39am

When Lucido spoke with the reporter, his message was clear: he was suggesting she might enjoy being the guest of honor at a gang-bang. And he said it loud enough to send the same message to the boys nearby. Republicans contend he meant something else. But the facts that the boys began giggling, and that the school had to step in to straighten them out, shows they at least knew what he meant.

Matt
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 7:39am

Just looking at the accompanying picture and leering look on that guy’s face, a definite creep! Who knows where that guy's hands are and what he’s doing? All the evidence we need. Should definitely be thrown out of office.

Tired of stupid
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 8:37am

Matt how dumb are you really? That is an honest question how dumb? The guy in the picture is not Mr. Lucido and this is what men now have to face. You have a HUGE double standard where Dems. can get serviced in the oval office and no one cares, you have a creepy old guy in Joe Biden who has fondled caressed, kissed, sniffed and no one does a thing. You have a man who did nothing but say yes to an appointment to the Supreme Court get viciously attacked with nothing but false and misleading claims. He touched the small of her back and they were both being sworn in so he had no power over her, if she felt threatened by an equal she could have said something also her husband was right there. This smells of politics from beginning to end. As for the liberal reporter getting offended by telling her she will have fun with the rest of the people in the group sounds like he was inviting her to have fun in the experience the group was about to have. This whole thing is a giant pant load!!

Matt
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 2:48pm

Yah .... I know all this. Thought the picture of Annaneck (?) was too funny to ignore!

Oh yeah?
Thu, 01/23/2020 - 2:12pm

Maybe Ananich is looking a the "kick me" sticker some doofus republican put on her back!

Bones
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 12:32pm

Conservatives, always so eager to rally around scumbags and harassers. What else is new?

Matt
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 2:50pm

What ?? thrown out of office isn't enough? You got it, Capital punishment!

Rick
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 12:54pm

Ha, that was EXACTLY what I thought.
A picture speaks a thousand words...
Anyone looked at the demographics of the GOP in the Michigan legislature?
I'll bet it's a joke in terms of women. Time for Michigan Women to step up and fix that!

Jim
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 4:47pm

If you think harassment is largely or even mostly an issue of Republican misbehavior you’re flat out wrong. It’s bipartisan. It’s about power not ideology. In fact some of the publicly “woke” men in town are some of the worst behaved because they think their politics give them cover.

Bernadette
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 8:50am

Pete Lucido is a sycophant of the current Washington Administration . He has been a "star" at Trump rallies, has always been part of the Republican Good Old Boys.

The Republicans "stole" the last decade of leadership in Lansing through gerrymandering. They took this state leadership over and have not looked back. This is what Michigan is like after ten years, and is now playing out at the National level. Michigan is now at the bottom of all states in the areas of quality of life.

Michiganders should be paying attention, but since most have to work 2-3 jobs to try to make ends meet, there is no time to pay attention which is exactly what Republicans want. Very sad for Michigan. Women and men of integrity need to be elected.

Times a changin
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 9:44am

Trump, Lucido are archaic, they need to change or go.

Arjay
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 9:59am

Why is it that those seeking perpetual political office representing either party seem to be in trouble all the time? Creepy Joe at the top all the way to the lowest unknown in an obscure Local office. Is it because these people could never get a real job, or is it that some must have power over something.

We need to always remember that the founding fathers envisioned a system where people would give up their job for a term or two, do a job for the country, then return to their private life and job.

Seriously?
Thu, 01/23/2020 - 2:05pm

Are you comparing Biden to Trump? You never heard the Access Hollywood tape or Stormy Daniels? You're comparing apples to oranges.

Ray
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 11:38am

As someone who has been around here a while, a few comments:

1) Lansing is a sexist town (and I’m speaking as a male). I don’t know Lucido so won’t comment on those accusations but what’s been claimed is not unusual (alleged) behavior.

2) A large majority of people here behave appropriately but that still leaves a lot of people who don’t.

3) it’s not just legislators and staff and occasional press. It’s not just male/female (male/male happens too).

4) it’s difficult for someone to make an accusation when it’s across party or ideological lines. Imagine how much more difficult it is when the alleged perp is a political or ideological ally. That’s one key reason a lot of this never gets out, fear of harming the team and fear of being labeled and being ostracized by one’s “team”

5) Some of the worst behavior is by lobbyists at events toward staff. Again, the vast majority of lobbyists behave properly. But lobbyists raise money and are vitally important to elected officials. Taking on a harassing lobbyist - especially when there’s no harassment procedure (unlike with legislators) because they work for a different entity - runs the same ostracism risks I note above with “allies”.

6) some good can come from all this - the alleged behavior is totally unacceptable and is the tip of the iceberg (we’ve all heard of far worse). Making it clear that such behavior (whether ultimately validated in these cases or not) is absolutely unacceptable is the only way it will be ended.

7) there should be some people in this town who are very nervous about any updated (and appropriate) behavior expectations. That’s excellent news.

Bob in the Real...
Thu, 01/23/2020 - 9:39am

Typical democrat snowflake. Can't stand up for themselves so we'll make accusation and declare them guilty and the lapdog press will go right along with it. If the guy is/was a creep, slap the snot out of him! You won an election just like he did. You are his equal. Not come out a year later and whine about it. Typical (democrat, socialist) snowflake. Grow up. Get out in the real world. Get a life.!

Got a Life
Thu, 01/23/2020 - 2:09pm

Ok, Boomer! You're advocating assault and battery as the answer to harassment. Time for your nap.

James Katakowski
Tue, 01/28/2020 - 9:28am

To all the ladies it is time to put the ole white men out of commission forever. All join and go get em.... This disgusting power behavior needs to be totally eliminated in all forms of government and anywhere else it may exist.