A political consultant said she knew she’d be risking “everything” by coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment against a top political aide to powerful state House Speaker Mike Madigan.
And while the speaker’s attorney on Tuesday defended a three-month investigation that led to the firing of Kevin Quinn, the accusations from the former campaign worker are exposing a loophole in the way sexual harassment claims are treated within political campaigns and operations versus among government employees.
The consultant, Alaina Hampton, first told Ald. Marty Quinn that his brother was harassing her a year ago, calling a discussion with her political mentor about his brother’s behavior “the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.”
But she said she was unhappy with the handling of the matter — even after she had left Madigan’s political organization — deciding to handwrite a letter to the speaker and mail it to his Southwest Side home to ensure he saw it.
Some 100 days later, Madigan on Monday announced Kevin Quinn’s firing after Heather Wier Vaught — a private attorney who previously served as his chief legal counsel — conducted an investigation that included interviews and a review of text messages Kevin Quinn sent to Hampton.
Madigan didn’t name Hampton as the accuser on Monday, but hailed her as a “courageous woman.”
But on Tuesday, Hampton had no praise for Madigan, suggesting that he was asleep at the switch.
“The speaker has had the letter for three months. It doesn’t take three months to read those text messages and know that that behavior was inappropriate. It would take all of 20 minutes to know that that was sexual harassment,” Hampton said.
The allegations sparked a barrage of complaints from Democratic gubernatorial candidates, and from Republican candidate State Rep. Jeanne Ives. But J.B. Pritzker chose his words carefully, praising Hampton for “unimaginable courage,” — with nary a mention of the speaker. Still, Pritzker said there is a need to focus on conducting a “thorough investigation and ensuring that there are systems in place to protect all women.”
Businessman Chris Kennedy, and Ives, both called for Madigan to step down, albeit Kennedy’s request was for him to “temporarily” step down as head of the party until a thorough investigation could be conducted. Ives went further in saying he should resign.
“Because of his failure, numerous women have been hurt — professionally and otherwise,” Ives alleged.
Gubernatorial candidate State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, also criticized the timing of the firing.
Speaking with reporters in Springfield on Tuesday, Madigan categorically denied that the firing was announced Monday because Hampton had spoken to the Chicago Tribune: “I deny that,” Madigan said.
As for calls for him to resign as the head of the party, the speaker said he’s not going anywhere — saying he will remain a “strong force against the [Gov. Bruce] Rauner radical right agenda.”
At an earlier Chicago news conference, Hampton said she had never wanted to go public.
“I asked him to stop seven times. It never stopped,” said of Kevin Quinn’s repeated text messages. “I feared not responding to my supervisor because I didn’t want him to tell the speaker or Ald. Quinn that I was not cooperating with my work. My first instinct was not to complain about him. It was my last option.”
Hampton said she was just 23 when she started being mentored by Ald. Quinn.
“When I told you about your brother, I needed you to protect me. I didn’t feel safe. I knew telling you would risk everything I had worked for in my entire career, and I was right,” Hampton said while tearing up.
Hampton, Ald. Quinn said in a statement, had “asked for my discretion, and indicated she did not want others to know about the situation, and that Kevin not be further reprimanded. I told her I would make sure he never contacted her again.”
Ald. Quinn, too, said he didn’t tell the speaker because he was “attempting to protect” her privacy and honor her wishes: “I thought I took swift action and handled the matter as she requested,” he said in the statement.
Hampton said she notified Madigan in November. A copy of her letter to the speaker was released at the news conference.
In the letter, she said Kevin Quinn began sending the “inappropriate text messages” in August 2016.
“On several occasions in the span of nearly 6 months, I told him to stop and that I was only interested in having a professional relationship. Since I was helping with the election, I had no choice but to communicate with him to fulfill my role. I was scared that he would tell MQ or you that I was not cooperating if I stopped responding to him.”
Hampton met with Madigan’s attorney, Wier Vaught, on Nov. 15 and provided her with print outs of the text messages. She said she reached out to Ald. Quinn in mid-January about her desire to work for another campaign and instead received a phone call from Wier Vaught.
Hampton said she doesn’t want a job back with the party, “accepting that they weren’t going to protect me and that I was going to lose everything I worked for because a man could not control himself was devastating.”
She’s also hired an attorney to represent her in a discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The statute of limitations have passed on a sexual harassment claim, but the complaint is made on the basis that she was retaliated against for coming forward.
A spokeswoman for Hampton questioned the timing of Kevin Quinn’s dismissal, coming a day after she spoke with the Chicago Tribune.
But Wier Vaught on Tuesday she had no knowledge that Hampton had spoken to the media. She said Kevin Quinn left both his political and state positions last week.
“Questions started swirling as to where is Kevin Quinn, and we wanted to make it clear to people that this type of behavior wouldn’t be tolerated,” she said.
Wier Vaught said the investigation required a “thoughtful and fair review,” saying she she was confident that it was an isolated incident and Kevin Quinn wasn’t sending inappropriate texts to other women.
Wier Vaught said Madigan received the letter at his home between Nov. 6 and Nov. 8. She spoke to Hampton for the first time in an hourlong phone conversation on Nov. 13. She met with her on the 15th, and the two shared four conversations in total.
Wier Vaught said her investigation concluded in mid-January and that “termination isn’t something you can do quickly.”
Hampton had worked on the successful legislative campaign of now State Rep. Julian Stratton, when she defeated State Rep. Ken Dunkin. She’s now a campaign manager for Cook County commissioner candidate Bridget Degnen.
“I don’t have an protections as a political worker. I don’t work for the government. I only work on campaigns,” Hampton said.
Hampton’s attorney said Kevin Quinn should have been reprimanded or suspended, pending an investigation, instead of purely fired at the end of an investigation: “There should be an investigation by an independent party, usually an outside law firm to see if there is any truth to it,” lawyer Shelly Kulwin said. “That’s what every credible organization does, or should do.
Kulwin said women in the workforce should know “this is not acceptable behavior by their employer or the organization they work for.”
“She felt afraid that if she reported it, her career was over. It should be the other way around. He should feel like his career is over the second he hits the send message on the text. You’re done,” Kulwin said. “You send that message, you’re done. That’s how it should be. We need a complete reversal of how things are viewed. The victim should not be the person who is the accused.”