Suit Accuses Ill. GOV Hopeful Of Sexual Harassment

chicago@chicagodefender.com | 2/10/2014, 4:50 p.m.
<div><p>A former employee in Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s office filed a federal lawsuit Monday claiming the Republican gubernatorial candidate made ...

A former employee in Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s office filed a federal lawsuit Monday claiming the Republican gubernatorial candidate made inappropriate sexual advances and regularly forced him to do political work on state time, allegations Rutherford has strongly denied.

Ed Michalowski, a former lawyer and director in Rutherford’s office, alleges in the lawsuit that Rutherford’s sexual advances began in April 2011, shortly after Michalowski began working in the office, and continued for more than two years. The lawsuit also claims Rutherford asked Michalowski to set up meetings with potential donors for campaign contributions and organize parades and petition drives while he was working for the state.

Rutherford scheduled a news conference for late Monday afternoon to address the lawsuit.

The allegations come just weeks before the four-way GOP primary, and political analysts say they could severely damage Rutherford’s chances, particularly among the socially conservative voters who typically turn out to choose the Republican nominee. One political analyst called the claims “toxic.”

Rutherford has denied any wrongdoing and held an unusual, hastily arranged news conference Jan. 31 to announce that an unnamed employee had raised “allegations of misconduct” against him. Initially, Rutherford said he couldn’t detail the allegations because they were a personnel matter, but he later confirmed they involved harassment and political coercion.

“I know the accusations are completely false,” Rutherford told The Associated Press last week.

He said an independent investigation would clear his name and accused a Republican gubernatorial rival, businessman Bruce Rauner, of being behind the accusations in an attempt to undermine Rutherford’s campaign in advance of the March 18 primary. Rauner has denied the allegation.

Michalowski submitted a letter of resignation to Rutherford’s office last week. The lawsuit names both the treasurer and his chief of staff, Kyle Ham, who didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

In the lawsuit, Michalowski alleges that he attended an April 2011 overnight retreat at Rutherford’s Chenoa home. He says Rutherford told him other staff members would be there, but no one else arrived.

The lawsuit alleges that after Michalowski went to the guest bedroom that night, Rutherford entered the bedroom and grabbed his genital area. Michalowski says he pushed Rutherford away and later told Rutherford’s chief of staff about the incident. Michalowski alleges the aide told him, “At least we have job security.”

Michalowski also alleges Rutherford approached him a few months later while Michalowski was talking to a group of women at a Springfield bar prior to the Illinois State Fair. He claims the treasurer grabbed his arm and said: “If you go home with me, you can have anything you want in the office.”

The lawsuit also claims that during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Rutherford asked Michalowski to go back to his hotel room. When Michalowski said no, Rutherford got angry and told him: “You just said no to the treasurer,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also claims Rutherford made Michalowski do work for his own campaign as well as for 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Rutherford was the Illinois chairman for the Romney campaign.