HELENA — Joe Williams, a former top deputy in the Department of Corrections, was the subject of two harassment investigations dating back to 2003 before he resigned last year amid similar sexual harassment complaints, the Gazette State Bureau has learned.
The department will not release the conclusion of either investigation.
State officials, including Gov. Brian Schweitzer's office, also will not release details of a settlement agreement with Rhonda Schaffer, the Department of Corrections manager who filed a Human Rights Bureau complaint against Williams, her former supervisor.
Schweitzer said he favors keeping the documents secret because he doesn't want to discourage witnesses and victims of workplace harassment from coming forward.
"I need to send a signal to potential victims and potential witnesses that their privacy will be protected," he said. "I want state employees to feel very comfortable in stepping forward."
Williams resigned in November. Corrections Director Bill Slaughter announced his resignation May 25.
The sexual harassment scandal led to a department shake-up this spring after Schaffer, who applied for Williams' job when he resigned, was not hired for the position. Neither Williams nor a representative for Schaffer immediately responded to requests for comment for this story.
Former and current corrections officials have told the State Bureau that Schaffer complained that she was passed over for the job in retaliation for her complaints against Williams, who was the agency's top deputy and a close adviser to Slaughter.
After she complained, the agency in April made Schaffer head of the Administrative and Financial Services Division, a newly titled version of Williams' old post.
Gary Hamel, who had been hired instead of Schaffer for Williams' job, agreed to take over an entirely new division created at that time by the Corrections Department to oversee health care, technology and planning. Hamel had been a budget official at the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Schaffer has worked at the department since 1992, when she was hired as an administrative clerk. She worked her way up to head of the agency's Fiscal Bureau, which oversees the Corrections budget, before taking her current post this spring.
Last fall, Schaffer filed a complaint of sexual harassment with the state Human Rights Bureau, alleging that Williams, her immediate supervisor, harassed her based upon her gender.
The Human Rights Bureau's investigation was completed this spring, but a request by the State Bureau for a copy of the investigative report was denied. The news organization has formally objected to the denial and is involved in a state administrative process to determine whether the report will be released publicly.
The Human Rights Bureau's investigation into Williams' on-the-job behavior was not the first.
In 2003, the Department of Corrections hired an outside mediator to look into the working relationship between Williams and Schaffer, after Schaffer complained about the way Williams treated her, the State Bureau has learned.
The department has refused to release a copy of that investigation or say whether the agency did anything to follow up on the findings.
Bob Anez, communications director for the Department of Corrections, said the 2003 investigation is part of the Human Rights Bureau report, which is the subject of the process instigated by the Gazette State Bureau to make the report public.
Later, in 2005, Schaffer again complained to superiors about Williams' behavior. The State Bureau learned that the Corrections Department brought in another outside mediator to investigate. The state has refused to release the results of the investigation.
Anez said the agency cannot release the report because the investigator hired by the agency to conduct the inquiry was a lawyer. Therefore, Anez argued, the report can be kept secret because the department was the lawyer's client and correspondence between lawyers and their clients are confidential.