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Calls for investigation after former DFL staffer details sexual harassment, lack of action by leadership

Cynthia Callais provided her account to the Minnesota Reformer.

A former DFL staffer's account of workplace sexual harassment and inaction by party leadership has led to multiple calls for an investigation.

Cynthia Callais, speaking to Ricardo Lopez of the Minnesota Reformerdetailed the harassment she endured while working in the Senate and later as deputy field director for the Senate DFL campaign. She said that over a period of nine months, a man named Clay Schwartzwalter made repeated, unwanted sexual advances toward her.

Schwartzwalter is the half-brother of state Sen. Jason Isaacson (DFL-Shoreview), whom Callais worked for as a legislative assistant during a portion of the time she says the harassment occurred. He also served as campaign manager for Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, whose leadership position includes responsibilities related to sexual harassment claims. (Schwartzwalter denied the alleged behavior.)

Callais brought the issue to her employer and human resources. However, she says her complaints were never investigated, and while trying to pursue corrective action she was instead told at one point to look for another job, she tweeted, as "nothing could be done."

Callais, who now works for Education Minnesota, initially tweeted about the incidents on July 1. On Wednesday, following the publishing of the Reformer's story, she said:

"11 months ago, I turned to DFL leaders to protect me in my workplace. Instead, I was told to find another job. My story is not unique — we are susceptible to sexual harassment in nearly every aspect of our lives."

Sen. Melisa López Franzen (DFL-Edina) released a statement calling for an outside investigation into Callais' allegations. She also criticized Kent for failing to launch an "immediate investigation" when she learned of the harassment Callais endured.

"I cannot in good conscience sit back while being shut out of the conversation on harassment in the workplace in the name of archaic 'Senate policy,'" she wrote, later adding: "It's 2021, well past time for the legislature — for both parties — to step up with action and protection in our workplace: the State Capitol."

Sen. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) followed suit a short time later.

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Meanwhile, 29 Senate DFL staffers signed a letter (published here by one of the signatories, Greg Weiner) saying they "stand in solidarity" with Callais.

In 2017, Rep. Tony Cornish (a Republican from Vernon Center) and Sen. Dan Schoen (a DFLer from Cottage Grove) both resigned after accusations of sexual harassment.

At the time, former Rep. Erin Maye Quade — one of the people who was harassed — argued "systematic" and "widespread" changes were the only way to stop the "pervasive culture of misogyny or to end sexual harassment of women inside and outside the Capitol."

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