Aug 5, 2022 - Politics

Utah Senate president launches investigation into sexual harassment claims against Sen. Gene Davis

This Wednesday, March 7, 2018, photo, shows Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis of Salt Lake City speaking during a Senate news conference at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. (AP)

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams announced Friday that the Senate was launching an independent investigation to look into claims that Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, sexually harassed one of his former interns.

Driving the news: Sonia Weglinski, who previously worked as Davis' legislative intern and employee this year, shared her experience on social media Wednesday night.

What's happening: "After reviewing recommendations from the legislative general counsel and human resource administrator, I have directed an independent investigation be initiated to evaluate these allegations," Adams said in a statement Friday.

  • In a previous statement released Thursday, Adams said he learned of the online allegations the day before.
  • "We take the recent allegations against Sen. Davis very seriously and do not tolerate sexual harassment or any form of inappropriate conduct in the workplace," Democratic Senate leaders said in a separate statement.

State of play: The investigation announcement comes one day after Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chair Eva Lopez suspended Davis from party events.

  • Lopez told Axios Thursday the party had not yet received any formal complaints from Weglinski, but invited her or anyone else to submit them.

Details: In an eight-slide Instagram post, Weglinski alleged Davis would "constantly invade my personal boundaries," put his arms around her waist and play with her toes.

  • "I developed a close yet professional relationship with my legislator. However those professional lines soon became blurred, and I did not realize it nor truly accepted it until months later," she wrote.

Go deeper: Weglinski claimed on May 10, she took photos and videos of Davis on his front porch while working on his re-election campaign.

  • She said Davis asked if he could wipe dirt off her buttocks after she sat down on the porch of his home. After saying no, Weglinski said Davis grabbed a towel and did it anyway.
  • In early June, Weglinski told Davis' former campaign manager, Richard Jaramillo, about the incident over a Zoom call, but said she was brushed off and asked why she didn't confront Davis.

Jaramillo, a former Salt Lake County Democratic Party chair, said he was shocked when he heard about the incident and encouraged her to report Davis' conduct.

  • He also said he confronted Davis about Weglinski's allegations but declined to reveal what that conversation entailed. He remained in his contracted position until the end of Davis' Democratic primary election.
  • "I'm hurt that a lot of the supportive things I said and everything I tried to do for her after she told me wasn't reflected in her portrayal of our conversation, but it is her story to tell and I support her speaking out," he told Axios.

Of note: While Axios does not typically reveal the name of victims of sexual harassment, Weglinski shared her identity and allegations on her public Instagram account.

  • Neither Weglinski nor Davis responded to Axios' requests for comment.

What they're saying: In an interview with Axios Thursday, state Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said, "I hope this young woman knows that she's supported and she gets the services she needs to move forward."

  • Romero, an advocate for victims of sexual assault on Capitol Hill, added no elected official should invade the personal space of their employees or interns. If they do, they should resign, she said.

Flashback: This is the second time in the last two years Davis has faced public sexual harassment accusations by a legislative employee on social media.

  • Last year, a former legislative staffer, Elizabeth Converse, claimed in a Facebook post that Davis put his arm around her waist and made inappropriate comments to her, including the suggestion of doing "body shots."

Catch up fast: Davis, a former Utah House member, was first elected as a state lawmaker in 1987. He's served as a state senator since 1999.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information from Davis’ campaign manager Richard Jaramillo.

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