Lawmaker under investigation by Utah Senate after intern makes sexual harassment allegations

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, speaks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 3. Davis has been placed on temporary leave after a former intern alleged in a social media post that he sexually harassed her during this year's legislative session.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, speaks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 3. Davis has been placed on temporary leave after a former intern alleged in a social media post that he sexually harassed her during this year's legislative session. (Mengshin Lin, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Longtime Utah state Sen. Gene Davis is under investigation by the Senate after a social media post from a former intern alleged he sexually harassed her during this year's legislative session.

"The entire Senate and I take these comments seriously. After reviewing recommendations from the legislative general counsel and human resource administrator, I have directed an independent investigation be initiated to evaluate these allegations," Senate President Stuart Adams said in a statement Friday.

He added that the Senate "condemns and does not tolerate workplace harassment. It has no place in any political, professional or personal setting."

The one-time intern in an Instagram post accused the senator of inappropriate touching during her internship, and when she was later hired to help with his bid for reelection.

Davis, D-Salt Lake City, has served in the Senate since 1999, and previously served in the House since 1987. He lost his campaign during this year's primary election to challenger Nate Blouin, a renewable energy advocate.

The senator did not immediately respond to calls from requesting comment on the allegations Friday.

'I was in complete shock'

The intern said in an Instagram post on Wednesday that the "professional lines" between her and Davis "became blurred" while she worked for him this spring, and she did not realize it until months later.

"He would put his arm around my waist. He would play with my toes when I sat down on his office reclining couch. He would constantly invade my physical boundaries," the woman said, adding that she "said nothing" and "did not fully acknowledge what was happening to me during this time."

She said she accepted a "high-paying position from him" in his campaign for reelection, which she accepted because she was "naive, broke, unemployed and desperate."

The woman recalled in her post a meeting with Davis, his campaign manager and a news reporter discussing previous sexual harassment allegations against him. The campaign manager "did all the talking," the woman said, and called the previous accuser "untrustworthy." When she told the manager she did not wish to work on the campaign anymore, he "continued to gaslight" her and accused her of overreacting, according to the post.

The former intern recounted another incident in which she says Davis told her she had dirt on her bottom after taking photos of him outside for the campaign. She said she tried to clean it off herself, and declined his offer multiple times to wipe it off.

"Before I could sit back down, he takes his towel and starts wiping down my butt. I was in complete shock. After he was done, he looked me in the eye and asked, 'Did that make you feel uncomfortable?'" the woman said.

When she later told the campaign manager she was quitting, and told him about the incident, she said, he appeared concerned but "gradually started to rationalize Sen. Davis' actions," saying he was "hyper-fixated" on getting the dirt off her pants. The campaign manager told her Davis is "touchy-feeling" with close ones, the woman's post states.

She said she did not know how to respond to him. The alleged harassment meant her experience at the Capitol "was stolen away" and she no longer had a letter of recommendation from a state senator.

The woman said she waited until after the primary election, which Davis lost, to come forward with the allegations because she did not want it to be viewed as a "political ploy."

"The Utah Democratic Party cares more about protecting the establishment than having accountability within their own party. They care about women when it comes to legislation and when it's trendy, but not when it's in their own inner circle," she said.

The woman contended that if the Utah Democratic Party had "done something concrete" with the previous sexual harassment allegation, her own experience could have been prevented.

Democratic Party responds

Senate minority leaders said in a joint statement that they also take the allegations "very seriously" and support an independent investigation.

"We take the recent allegations against Sen. Davis very seriously and do not tolerate sexual harassment or any form of inappropriate conduct in the workplace. We support an independent investigation to move forward immediately and will examine all options," Senators Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, and Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said in the statement.

"Sexual harassment is wholly unacceptable, and while no complaint has been filed, we have confidence in the Legislature's workplace discrimination and harassment policies and process to support employees and interns."

Utah Democratic Party Chairwoman Diane Lewis called for an investigation into "sexual harassment of any kind" within the party and said the party "stands with those who have spoken out about their experiences."

"As outlined in our Anti-Harassment Policies and Procedures, which were adopted in 2019 after much collaboration between Democrats striving to make the party a safer place for victims of sexual harassment and misconduct, the party cannot launch our own investigation until there is an official complaint to us," she said, adding that the party will investigate if a complaint gets brought to it.

Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chairwoman Eva Lopez also announced Davis has been temporarily suspended from all party-related activity.

"The Salt Lake County Democratic Party does not tolerate any impermissible behavior, sexual misconduct of any nature, physical or verbal violence, and all violations that perpetuate unsafe environments. No one should be fearful to participate in our party, especially to be an intern for a long-standing senator," Lopez said.

The Utah House Democratic Caucus called in a statement for lawmakers to believe those who report abuse.

"We take very seriously the allegations of sexual and workplace harassment of any kind, in any place, including our workplace in the Utah State Legislature. We believe in creating and building an environment where every individual feels safe and supported to speak up and speak out, confident in knowing that there is a fair and equitable process for evaluating that information. We support a full, independent, and immediate investigation into the matter," the caucus said.

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Ashley Imlay is an evening news manager for A lifelong Utahn, Ashley has also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.


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