(NEW YORK) — A female state senator from Michigan has come forward with a sexual harassment complaint against a male lawmaker in the wake of recent claims from a reporter regarding his conduct, to help show that “this behavior is a pattern.”
Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, told ABC News she “felt a level of responsibility” to tell her story about an incident she says occurred with Sen. Peter J. Lucido, R-Shelby Twp., after a claim last week he made inappropriate comments to a young capitol reporter.
“My heart sank because she said, ‘It made me feel small.’ And that’s exactly how I felt in November of 2018,” said McMorrow, responding to recent allegations against Lucido by Allison Donahue, a reporter for the Michigan Advance.
“I felt a level of responsibility for not having said something then, and I wanted to support her reporting with a story that’s corroborated to show that this is a pattern of behavior, not just an isolated incident,” McMorrow added.
Thinking back to her orientation day at the Senate building in Lansing two days after the November 2018 election — which, she said, included sexual harassment training — McMorrow said her introduction to Lucido turned into a “degrading and deflating” moment.
“As we shook hands, he held his other hand very, very low on my back, so his fingers were grazing my hip. So it was a very close conversation and he held it there,” she said. “I told him that I just beat incumbent Marty Kollenberg. And he looked me up and down, while still holding onto my low back, raised his eyebrows and said, ‘I can see why.'”
“It felt like it reduced everything I had accomplished,” she continued. “It didn’t matter to him that I had just run a really hard campaign for a year and a half or that I have a successful career or whether or not I was qualified — it was just, ‘Of course you won, because of what you look like.’
“In terms of the sexual harassment spectrum, this is more on the creepy scale. It unnerved me and made me feel gross and degraded.”
Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, confirmed to Crain’s Detroit Business that she witnessed Lucido with his arm “reaching around [McMorrow’s] back.”
McMorrow told ABC News she told her husband the day it happened, but as a woman in the minority party and one of the youngest people in the Senate, she “shrugged it off and sat back down.”
“I recognize that as another sitting senator that I’m in a position of power to come forward — so if I can, and that helps make this a safer place to work, then I will sleep better at night,” McMorrow added. “Even if that means the end of my political career.”
In a statement provided to ABC News on Tuesday, Lucido denied the sexual harassment allegations, calling them “completely untrue and politically motivated.”
McMorrow told ABC News she was “disappointed by his response” and that Lucido has not reached out to her, adding, “For him to say my claim is politically motivated is obscene.”
“The reaction from Lucido to Allison’s story has morphed to portray this as a one-off or joke that she somehow interpreted in the wrong way. I hope to show that it’s a pattern of his behavior,” she said.
Donahue says Lucido told her last week she could “have a lot of fun” with a group of boys who were there on a visit from De La Salle Collegiate, an all-boys Catholic high school and Lucido’s alma mater.
“‘You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you,'” he said, according to Donahue.
Donahue wrote in a first-person account for the nonprofit politics news site that she told Lucido the comment was unprofessional and that he would not have said such a thing to an older journalist or male counterpart.
According to Donahue, Lucido assured her he meant no harm and that it was a reference to how students at an all-boys school didn’t know how to act around women.
“It was nothing disingenuous. It was no harm,” the state senator, who’s married with three children, told the Detroit Free Press. Lucido also said he didn’t feel he owed Donohue an apology because he thought the quotes were taken out of context.”
He changed course and later issued a statement apologizing “for the misunderstanding” and “for offending Allison Donahue.”
“His response went from acknowledgment to victim-blaming to deflecting,” McMorrow said. “From my understanding, over the course of an entire week, he didn’t once call Allison Donahue to apologize.”
McMorrow told ABC News that in the wake of what happened between Lucido and Donahue, all eight female state senators convened on Thursday to “talk about improved response mechanisms.”
“The culture feels like, as long as you’re effective we turn a blind eye to how people are treated, and I felt like that needed an immediate response,” she said. “So I wanted to make sure to explain and share that I have a story.”
McMorrow said that “immediately” Sen. Rosemary Bayer told her, “‘Oh, I remember that his hand was way down there.'”
McMorrow said she shared her story with Donahue “in confidence last week,” and then, “I called her back last night to let her know that I would be filing a report.”
“I give her a lot of credit for standing up at 22 years old. I wouldn’t have done this had she not shared what happened,” McMorrow said.
She says her hope now is that this acts as a catalyst for change within the Lansing capitol building and beyond.
“What I hope changes, cause there’s always going to be people who cross the line — particularly in politics — is that we can talk to each other,” she said. “If someone tells you they’re offended, reach out and find out why — don’t immediately go on defense.”
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