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In the wake of #MeToo, questions raised in Delavan-Darien harassment complaint


On Oct. 4, 2017, the day before sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein launched the worldwide #MeToo movement, Krista Huerta filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Delavan-Darien School District.

Huerta, an occupational therapist at the district, alleged Ronald Sandoval, the district’s director of language acquisition and chief of the dual language program, had sexually harassed her multiple times for about two years.

Now, a year after filing the complaint, Huerta has raised questions about the district’s handling of the allegations and its procedures for filing harassment grievances. She says she wasn’t aware of the process or her rights when she chose to file the paperwork.

Sandoval, a Guatemalan whose second language is English, says the charges were fueled by discrimination. He says his behavior was misinterpreted and that he was treated more harshly by a school district investigator because of the #MeToo movement.

The debate comes amid a national increase in sexual harassment allegations in the year since #MeToo sparked awareness and conversation. Since October 2017, one in three executives report changing their actions to avoid behaviors that could be perceived as sexual harassment, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, and more than one-third of employees report feeling their workplaces foster sexual harassment.

Despite heightened awareness, sexual harassment still largely goes under-reported, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. In January, 76 percent of nonmanagement employees who had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace did not report it out of fear of retaliation or belief that nothing would change, according to the society.

“The process pretty much failed me on my end,” Huerta told The Gazette. “I can see why a lot of women don’t come forth.”

She said she wrote herself a note: “This is not your fault. You’re a good person.

“And I had to read it every single day,” she added.

Last week, district officials confirmed Sandoval will not be employed at the Delavan-Darien School District after the 2018-19 school year. His position will be eliminated, and his duties as the dual language chief will be split between current employees.

“We are now restructuring our administration. It wasn’t anything based on this issue,” interim Superintendent Jill Sorbie said. “The (dual language) program will still exist. It’s a fabulous program.”

The allegations

The Gazette obtained Huerta’s complaint through an open records request. In it, she details 11 encounters of sexual harassment by Sandoval, with the last incident Sept. 26, 2017. Huerta alleges Sandoval rubbed her arm at Turtle Creek Elementary School that afternoon, called her “beautiful” and said she had a “glow,” according to the complaint.

Other encounters in the complaint date to November 2015, shortly after Huerta started working at the district. They include Sandoval stopping Huerta in a hallway, complimenting her appearance and telling her she looked “marvelous” and “cute.”

Sandoval sometimes stood too close to her, Huerta wrote, and he whispered “hello” and looked her up and down on other occasions. That behavior, Huerta wrote, made her feel “dirty,” “disgusted” and “violated.”

In an interview with The Gazette, Sandoval labeled Huerta’s allegations as “false accusations” and questioned her mental stability. He said some of the encounters are cultural misunderstandings or language barriers because English is his second language.

He said the process after the complaint was filed was “pure discrimination” against him because he is a Hispanic man.

The school district’s attorney, Shana Lewis, led an investigation into Huerta’s complaint. She concluded Oct. 15, 2017, that Sandoval had sexually harassed Huerta and that at least three other women in the district had accused Sandoval of similar behavior, according to documents.

Sandoval eventually was suspended for two days without pay and underwent sexual harassment training. This January, all district employees participated in a harassment workshop in the wake of Huerta’s complaint.

But Huerta, who’s married to a Hispanic man, believes the punishment wasn’t fair. She said the process was traumatic, and after she submitted the grievance, she believes the district’s superintendent at the time, Bob Crist, sought ways to protect Sandoval.

‘It was horrible’

Huerta said she delayed filing a complaint out of fear of losing her job. But when she eventually submitted the grievance, the steps were vague and the process was trying, she said.

“I can see why women don’t say anything because it was one of the worst times of my life. … It was horrible,” Huerta said.

Huerta met with Sandoval in his office before filing the complaint. According to emails obtained by The Gazette, she planned to address one of the incidents with Sandoval “right away” and believed after the meeting the two had “a deeper understanding of one another.”

A few days later, Huerta reported Sandoval to the Delavan Police Department.

Huerta told an officer Sandoval had been making sexually harassing remarks for the past two years, according to an Oct. 2 police report. An officer visited Sandoval that night and issued a stalking warning but did not make an arrest or recommend charges.

Huerta eventually filed a formal grievance with the district and asked for Sandoval’s termination. During the school district investigation, Huerta detailed each of her allegations in an interview with Lewis, and reliving those moments opened wounds, she said.

“Going through each of the times ... mentally I was trying to shut them off just so that I could move on and just do my everyday routine and be here for my family,” she said.

Sandoval said Lewis was biased against him from the investigation’s onset. He said Lewis served as an “executor, jury and judge” and that she was vying to hand down a guilty sentence largely because of the #MeToo movement.

Crist gave Sandoval a one-week suspension without pay after Lewis’ investigation, according to an Oct. 17 letter. Crist wrote that any future occurrences will be “cause for termination.”

Neither Huerta nor Sandoval was satisfied. Huerta appealed the decision, and Sandoval filed a grievance claiming the investigation was “inequitable, unfair and discriminatory.”

Huerta wrote Oct. 23 that the punishment was unjust. Two other women had previously made verbal complaints against Sandoval, she wrote. Had those complaints been recorded, “I would not have been a victim of sexual harassment,” she wrote.

Sandoval wrote an Oct. 10 letter slamming witnesses for “corroboration,” asking why Huerta hadn’t reported earlier and asserting that she might have “some serious mental illness.” Sandoval filed a grievance Nov. 2.

The school board did not accept Huerta’s appeal, Crist wrote. On Nov. 13, 2017, Crist lowered Sandoval’s suspension to two days without pay after he conducted his own investigation.

Crist interviewed several women who passed off Sandoval’s behavior or did not find his actions to be questionable. In a letter, Crist points to the police investigation, Huerta’s email after meeting with Sandoval in his office and the lack of sexual harassment reporting as explanations for reducing Sandoval’s punishment.

‘This is happening everywhere’

Huerta believes Crist made multiple attempts to protect Sandoval and quiet the accusers throughout the filing and appeals process. Huerta said she was told to “get over it” and move on after Crist’s investigation, and she underwent six months of therapy in the aftermath, she said.

Now, Huerta asks why nothing was done for her, a victim of sexual harassment.

“It’s almost like the rules didn’t apply to him (Sandoval). But for everybody else it did,” she said.

Sorbie, who’s been interim superintendent since June, declined to comment on the investigation or Huerta’s allegations because she was not the superintendent during the incident. She would say only that hiring Lewis to investigate independently was the right decision.

In an interview with The Gazette, Crist stood by the process and called his handling of the situation fair.

“There was a lot of deliberation and anguishing over the whole thing to make sure it was as fair as possible,” Crist said. “I followed all of our board policies related to that kind of a circumstance.”

Delavan-Darien School Board President Jeff Scherer said the board was not involved in the decision-making process. He said Crist kept board members abreast after Sandoval’s consequences were handed down and that they did not vote on the matter.

The Gazette interviewed Huerta and Sandoval before the district confirmed Sandoval would not be returning next year.

In September, Sandoval was among those named in a federal lawsuit filed by a former student at the Kenosha Unified School District. Sandoval, who was an an assistant principal at Edward Bain School of Language and Art from 2007 to 2012, is one of five defendants in the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, a student claims he was harassed for several years beginning in the 2007-08 school year for being gay and that he was told not to consult with Sandoval directly “because Sandoval did not feel comfortable with plaintiff’s kind,” according to the lawsuit.

Sandoval declined to comment because the lawsuit is ongoing.

In the weeks after interviewing Sandoval, a Gazette reporter received seven emails from Delavan-Darien School District employees in support of Sandoval, attesting to what they said is his “moral integrity” and “professionalism.” They call him a “role model” and “respectful.”

Sandoval, who told The Gazette he will look for another job, said he considered filing a discrimination complaint after Lewis’ investigation but decided against it.

“This is a dark cloud over me that has been put for no reason. … And it’s going to follow me, and it’s going to damage my future, my family, my kids,” Sandoval said. “They (the accusers) want to see me in the hole.”

Despite her frustration with the process, Huerta does not regret submitting the grievance, she said.

“You want to go and do your job, and you want to feel a sense of safety,” Huerta said. “And then when your safety starts being impacted ... it’s not OK. It is the duty of your employer to make it a safe environment for you.”

The #MeToo movement launched the day after Huerta filed, and she said it brought a sense of relief knowing that women across the country had begun speaking out about injustice.

She hopes her complaint will prevent other women from becoming victims in the future, she said.

“This is happening everywhere. It’s not just in the little town of Delavan (and) Darien.

“It’s everywhere.”

Mercyhealth's new $505 million Rockford hospital will impact Rock County patients


When someone on your home team does well, you cheer them on from the sidelines.

Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag used the sports metaphor to describe his reaction to Mercyhealth’s new $505 million hospital and clinic set to open on the north side of Rockford, Illinois, on Saturday, Jan. 5.

Mercyhealth officials said the new hospital 34 minutes from Janesville will give Rock County residents convenient access to specialized care.

And Mercyhealth CEO Javon Bea announced Friday that money left over from the Rockford project will be used to expand surgical facilities at the health system’s Janesville hospital.

Watching the Janesville-based organization take on a significant capital project speaks to the the “great business atmosphere” in Janesville that helped cultivate the hospital’s success, Freitag said.

The new hospital is the latest—and most expensive—expansion project the Janesville-based Mercyhealth system has seen since crossing the Illinois border in 2015.

Mercyhealth’s Riverside Campus is a six-story, 563,000-square-foot facility on 263 acres off Interstate 90/39. It sits 29 miles—about a 34-minute drive—from Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville.

The campus consists of Mercyhealth Physician Clinic-Riverside adjacent to Javon Bea Hospital-Riverside, named after the health system’s CEO.

To keep Mercyhealth’s Janesville hospital up to speed, Mercyhealth’s board of directors approved Friday a plan to expand Mercy Terrace on the Janesville campus, Bea told The Gazette.

The expansion will allow space for new hybrid surgical suites, radiographic suites and nuclear medicine, Bea said.

The goal is to offer the same adult surgical services in Janesville as at the new hospital in Rockford so Mercyhealth’s operating teams can operate in both facilities, Bea said.

Hybrid surgical suites cut down on patient transfer by allowing multiple operations to be performed in one room. For example, if a patient is receiving a stent in his heart and something goes wrong to where he needs open-heart surgery, doctors can perform the open-heart surgery without having to move the patient, Bea said.

These services will be offered at the Javon Bea Hospital-Riverside once it opens and will eventually be offered in Janesville. Mercyhealth’s architects already have begun designing the Mercy Terrace expansion, Bea said.

Funding for the Janesville expansion comes from leftover money that was supposed to go toward the Rockford hospital project. To finance the new hospital, Mercyhealth received a 30-year fixed interest rate of about 3 percent, which is shockingly low, Bea said.

The projects will not lead to increased costs for patients, largely because of the projects’ low interest rates, Bea said.

Mercyhealth in Janesville has never had enough patients to justify adding advanced pediatric specialties at its hospital campus. The merger with Rockford Health System gives Mercyhealth access to women’s and children’s health services that were not available before, Bea said.

The new Rockford hospital will include a 52-bed neonatal intensive care unit with 55 pediatric specialists covering 29 pediatric specialties. It will serve as the designated regional perinatal center for 11 Illinois counties and four Wisconsin counties, including Rock County, Bea said.

Mothers in Rock County who need specialized obstetric services or anticipate a high-risk pregnancy will now be referred to the Javon Bea Hospital-Riverside, which is closer to and easier to access from Rock County than Madison hospitals, Bea said.

As of now, Rock County families needing specialized pediatric and perinatal services often get referred to Madison hospitals, Bea said.

The new hospital has brought on 500 new employees with the expectation of adding more in the future. Freitag said he is not concerned about the new hospital siphoning jobs from Rock County because there are more jobs available in the county now than there are people to fill them.

“I am not concerned about keeping people gainfully employed (in Janesville),” Freitag said.

Serving both southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois has allowed Mercyhealth to increase its offerings.

“You can’t have all things in any one location,” Bea said. “But when you have one bigger market, one bigger geographical service area for patients, it allows us as one integrated health system to have it all.”

WEDC would use audit spot checks, business owners' word to verify job creation under lame-duck bill


The state’s jobs agency would rely on a business owner’s word and outside audits of a portion of businesses receiving taxpayer funds to confirm jobs are being created under the state’s tax credit programs, rather than independently verifying all promised jobs, under the lame-duck action by lawmakers this week.

Tucked inside a bill passed early Wednesday as part of a legislative session called before Gov. Scott Walker leaves office is a provision repealing a requirement that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. verify information submitted to the Department of Revenue and WEDC by companies before providing them tax credits in exchange for jobs. The bill was passed after an all-night session mainly out of the public’s view.

The proposed change comes after the agency has sought to overcome past criticism over a poor track record in verifying the money businesses get is actually resulting in new jobs in Wisconsin.

The measure, included in a slate of bills introduced and passed by Wisconsin lawmakers within five days, instead requires WEDC to independently verify information from a sample of businesses applying for tax credits. Internal vetting of all companies receiving tax credits would continue, WEDC officials say.

Democrats warn the change could mean less scrutiny on the recipient of WEDC’s largest award in history: a near $4 billion tax incentive package for Foxconn in exchange for building a $10 billion LCD panel factory in Racine County and 13,000 jobs—a deal that cost more than $200,000 in state taxpayer money per job.

Under the measure, which is now in the hands of Gov. Scott Walker, the jobs agency would be required “to annually and independently verify, from a sample of tax credits, the accuracy of the information required to be reported by recipients,” according to an analysis of the legislation by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Because the plan relies on a sample, each and every recipient of job-creation incentives would not receive the same level of scrutiny.

Each recipient of a tax credit also would be required to submit a signed statement to WEDC from the recipient, or his or her representative, “attesting to the accuracy and truthfulness of the information provided to it.”

Mark Maley, spokesman for WEDC, said the agency has already been vetting every single award recipient and will continue to do so, and that the new language requires 10 percent of recipients undergo an independent audit to verify job creation reports by seeking documentation from the company for each job.

He said the agency has been seeking the provision for more than a year to address concerns raised by the Legislative Audit Committee.

“The provision in the legislation passed this week regarding verification of tax credits actually strengthens our existing process for verifying job creation among awardees by adding another layer of job verification to an already thorough process,” he said.

Maley said currently WEDC receives on an annual basis detailed employee information to calculate tax credits for job creation. He said the agency verifies jobs by collecting performance and payroll data and verifies each company’s performance report.

“The process now in place includes a review of the information on an employee-by-employee basis, with the primary purpose of determining if the individual employee meets the programmatic or statutory guidelines for a full-time employee,” he said. “WEDC also does a review against data received from the Department of Workforce Development.”

Sen. Rob Cowles of Green Bay—one of just two Republican lawmakers to vote against the main lame-duck bill—said as the chairman of the Joint Audit Committee he was concerned the provision on job verification would make it difficult to properly analyze job-creation programs.

“I can’t comprehend this,” he said. “If there’s a good reason for doing it, I haven’t heard it.”

“How can we know whether the (job-creation programs) work or not?” he added. “Where the contract (between the state and company) says there will be 10 jobs or 20 jobs or whatever it might be, well, we ought to know.”

The change was part of a number of proposals put forward by Republicans largely aimed at weakening the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general but was not publicly discussed before lawmakers passed it. Lawmakers took up the bill at around 5 a.m. Wednesday after being at the Capitol for at least 18 hours.

“That was a thing that wasn’t discussed in all the meetings,” Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said Friday. “Which happens sometimes—you talk about the big things but don’t talk about the little things that could be big things.”

Olsen, who sits on the Legislature’s finance committee, said though he did not know the measure was included in the bill he voted to approve, he’s comfortable with the change because the WEDC was having trouble complying with the current rules and that the change accomplishes the same goal.

He said the agency has been seeking the provision for more than a year to address concerns put forward by the Legislative Audit Committee.

Obituaries and death notices for Dec. 9, 2018

Shirley M. Blaser

Dorothea Weeks Dean

Sharon M. Dyle

Mary Marshall

Thomas E. McGrath

Corrine F. Shaw

Gerald E. Stuckey

Sharon Jeanne Urbanowski

James Washebeck

Kenneth Wolnick