Former intern sues Utah Legislature for ‘failing to reasonably address sexual harassment’

Just over a year after longtime Democratic lawmaker Gene Davis retired early following a Utah Senate investigation that determined he “more likely than not” violated the body’s sexual harassment policies in his interactions with an intern, that intern is suing the Legislature, Davis and others for how that experience has continued to impact her.

A complaint filed in federal court Friday alleges that officials at the Legislature were aware of past sexual misconduct allegations by Davis, and that they failed to protect Sonia Weglinski, a then-19-year-old University of Utah student, when she was placed in his office as an intern in 2022.

“Neither Defendants the State of Utah, the Legislature, nor OLRGC [Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel] took any action to prevent Ms. Weglinski from being assigned to Davis, or to reassign her, despite knowing that Defendant Davis harassed young, female employees,” the filing reads.

It continues, “By failing to reasonably address sexual harassment that they were aware of, Defendants … continued to perpetuate a culture where powerful legislators are permitted to harass young, female interns and other employees.”

The lawsuit comes as dozens of interns are scheduled to begin their time on Capitol Hill when the 2024 legislative session starts next month.

A spokesperson for the Legislature declined to comment Friday evening, saying that they had not yet seen the lawsuit. Davis, who was defeated by Sen. Nate Blouin in the 2022 Democratic primary Election, also did not return a request for comment, nor did an attorney who has represented the former lawmaker in responding to Weglinski’s allegations.

An attorney named in the lawsuit confirmed they were representing Weglinski, who was not taking questions over the weekend.

‘An atmosphere where Davis … could harass women without consequence’

Weglinski first publicly accused Davis of sexual misconduct in an August 2022 social media post, telling The Salt Lake Tribune the next day, “My mental Health has honestly plummeted from that point,” referring to her time working for Davis. “I really don’t like being vulnerable online, and posting that was really hard for me.”

The Utah Senate announced shortly after that it would launch an investigation into the allegations. Investigators from the law firm Parsons Behle & Latimer spoke to Weglinski about her experiences as an intern for Davis, as well as time she spent working on his 2022 reelection campaign.

According to a report filed after their investigation, attorneys focused on four accusations against the then-senator: that he played with Weglinski’s feet without consent; that he invaded her personal boundaries; that he showed her inappropriate TV scenes; and that he served Weglinski, who was underage, alcohol.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, during a special session at the State Captiol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

After concluding that Davis “more likely than not” violated the Legislature’s harassment policies, investigators wrote, “We did not find Sen. Davis to be forthcoming or completely honest during his interview. He made several inconsistent statements and certain of his claims were contradicted by other witnesses.”

In August 2022, Davis told The Tribune that he was “flabbergasted” by the allegations, but confirmed at least one of the incidents Weglinski described in her initial Instagram post — that he rubbed dust off of her bottom without permission.

Also included in the complaint were allegations that Davis made sexual comments about female politicians, including talking with a lobbyist about Georgia’s U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, saying “she looked like a horse and they couldn’t imagine sleeping with her.”

The university student is not the first woman to accuse Davis of sexual misconduct.

In a 2021 Facebook post, former legislative staffer Elizabeth Converse alleged that Davis behaved inappropriately toward her at the Utah Capitol and on a legislative trip. Converse wrote in the post that she declined to have her experiences included in a formal complaint against Davis, but she had notified her superiors of the behavior.

And KUTV reported that a 2016 sexual harassment report made by another staffer, initially obtained by the Associated Press in 2018, was linked to Davis, according to a “well-placed source.” Those records were also provided to The Tribune following a public records request, and show that the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel instructed the lawmaker to “re-take the supervisor’s training on prevention of harassment in the workplace.”

Because of the entity’s alleged knowledge of Davis’ past actions, the Office of General Research and Legislative Counsel, as well as the office’s former intern coordinator, Nathan Brady, are also named in the lawsuit.

“Defendant Brady’s actions and inactions in failing to prevent and/or creating, maintaining, and condoning the hostile work environment, which included the harassment of Ms. Weglinski based on her sex, violated her constitutional rights pursuant to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the filing reads.

It references a 2013 email exchange first reported by The Tribune in which Brady joked with former Republican Rep. Paul Ray about female interns’ physical appearances.

Responding to an email from Brady asking if Ray wanted his own — or a “dedicated” — intern, Ray asked, “Dedicated please, is Miss Utah Available?” Brady replied, “Ha ha ha . . . . not yet. I’ve been meeting with our interns and most of our female interns would not be mistaken for Miss Utah.”

After fulfilling The Tribune’s public records request, a spokesperson said Brady, a policy analyst who remains an employee at the Capitol, was moved from overseeing interns because of the “inappropriate” emails.

Weglinski’s complaint alleges that the Legislature, its Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel and Brady maintained a list of legislators who had previously been accused of sexual misconduct and were not supposed to be assigned female interns.

“This created and condoned an atmosphere where Davis and other legislator[s] could harass women without consequence and at the same time discouraged complaints from being filed,” the complaint reads.

As part of the lawsuit, Weglinski is seeking compensation from the state and Legislature, as well as from Davis and Brady, for the former lawmaker’s alleged actions causing “extreme distress” and for how they have “impacted her personal life as well as her educational plans.”

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