Minnesota congressional hopeful Dean Phillips chaired a health care company's board that was criticized for ignoring pervasive sexual harassment and racist comments.
Incumbent Republican congressman Erik Paulsen has released an ad highlighting a 2007 lawsuit filed by seven nurses seeking recompense for years of sexual misconduct by a doctor employed by Allina Health, one of Minnesota's largest health care companies. Phillips served on the company's board of directors from 2005 to 2011 and was named board chairman in 2009.
"When multiple nurses came forward to report sexual harassment, Phillips didn't do anything about it. Seven nurses say they were subjected to lewd comments, groping, and even assault," the 30-second ad says. "A doctor even accused Phillips's board of covering up the harassment charges. Yet Phillips and the board did nothing."
Phillips, an alcohol entrepreneur who inherited millions from his father, has made his service on the board a centerpiece of his campaign, saying it demonstrates his civic-mindedness. Phillips's campaign biography points to his "recent service as the volunteer chair of Allina Health's Board of Directors" to demonstrate that he "has always made community service a personal priority." He did not respond to request for comment about the lawsuit.
In 2007, seven nurses filed a federal lawsuit after claiming that Allina and Dr. Donald Blowers ignored their complaints about sexual harassment and lewd conduct at the Woodlake Center. The women said Blowers repeatedly subjected them to sexual banter and once put a stethoscope down his pants and beckoned a nurse to "come and get it if you want," according to the suit. He also groped female employees and struck several of them with objects ranging from stacks of papers to staplers.
"Each time Plaintiffs learned Defendant Blowers sexually harassed another female employee, their fear and apprehension of being near him increased," the suit said. "Defendant Blowers used the workplace as a playground to prey on female employees."
Another clinic supervisor was accused of using a stereotypical southern "black" accent to speak to African-American nurses and made jokes about fried chicken and watermelon. One black nurse was denied promised pay increases and promotions and was paid lower than her white colleagues, according to the suit.
When the nurses raised complaints to clinic psychologists, human resources, and the company's chairman, they were not only ignored but retaliated against, according to the suit.
"Defendants engaged in retaliatory actions, including hostility and discipline, and even false imprisonment, toward those who complained," the suit said. "Defendants' conduct was egregious, oppressive, and characterized by recklessness or malice or wantoness."
The nurses were not the only ones to notice the hostile work environment. One doctor reached out to Allina's board warning about the culture of sexual misconduct at the company. "There is a serious problem at Woodlake Clinic that is being covered up by the Allina administration," the letter obtained by local media said. "If we don't fix this sordid mess ourselves, we will likely soon be hearing about [it] in the news."
The board, however, did not act on his advice.
Allina did not respond to request for comment about the suit. A number for Dr. Blowers's family practice has been disconnected.
Paulsen, who has represented the district since 2009, trails Phillips 49-44 percent, according to an October poll conducted by KSTP SurveyUSA.