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Tanzi’s sexual harassment commission hits the ground running



The first meeting of Rhode Island State Representative Teresa Tanzi‘s Special Legislative Commission to Study Unlawful Sexual Harassment in the Workplace met on Tuesday. The first meetings of some commissions are sometimes only organizational in nature, with little of substance to offer, but Tanzi hit the ground running with presentations from Cheryl Burrell, director of the Rhode Island Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity and Michael Evora, executive director of the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission, who provided a landscape of sorts about the current state of sexual harassment complaints and the procedures in place to deal with them.

The commission was created by legislation (H7678) sponsored by Tanzi in response to the national public discussion about the prevalence of sexual harassment prompted by the #metoo movement. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who cosponsored the bill establishing the commission, instituted anti-harassment training for legislators and staff after meeting last January with Tanzi about the issue.

In a statement, Tanzi said, “Women were given equal protection under the law through the implementation of Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it was applied for the first time specifically to sexual harassment in the workplace in 1986. It has been 54 years since Title 7 and 32 years since the Supreme Court decision, and it’s long past time to review our state’s laws to ensure they are effective.”

Tanzi “plans for the commission to review recent federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommendations and look at best practices around the country with regard to training so people understand what constitutes harassment and what to do about it, with the goal of encouraging bystander intervention, and empowering victims to report harassment while simultaneously protecting them from retaliation. A second goal is to review laws other states have enacted and make recommendations to update and strengthen Rhode Island laws.”

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The commission should wrap up its work and issue a report by May 17.

Below are photos of the commission members in attendance and all the video from the first meeting. There was no public testimony at the commission hearing.

Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett)

Michael Evora, executive director of the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission

Wendy Becker, associate professor at Rhode Island College, representing the LGBTQ community.

Samuel Palmisano, standing in for Jill Andy, senior vice president of human resources at Amica Mutual Insurance Corporation

Special Assistant Attorney General Victoria Goetz representing Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office

Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett)

Representative Antonio Giarrusso (Republican, District 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich)

Central Falls Police Chief James Mendonca, representing the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association

Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson (Democrat, District 21, Warwick)

Representative Evan Patrick Shanley (Democrat, District 24, Warwick)

Cheryl Burrell, director of the Rhode Island Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s Chief of Staff Leo Skenyon was on hand to swear in the commission.

Lynne Urbani, Director of Policy for Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is the commission clerk.

Here’s the organizational part of the hearing:

The presentation by Cheryl Burrell:

The presentation by Michael Evora:

Wrapping up:

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