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Luke Simons claims O'Brien's allegations are up for interpretation

Luke Simons held a presser in Bismarck where he set about “clearing his name,” less than a week after being the first member ever deposed from the North Dakota House of Representatives.

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Looking down at the inside of his palms, former Rep. Luke Simons contemplates his decision on whether to pursue legal action for his expulsion from the North Dakota House of Representatives Tuesday in a press conference at the Wingate Hotel in Bismarck. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

In a written statement, former Rep. Luke Simons singled out each of the multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct used to oust him from his seat in the Legislature. With his statement, Simons highlighted Rep. Emily O’Brien's previous harassment claims made while at the University of North Dakota — claims which were later found to be unsubstantiated.

Under the North Dakota Legislative Assembly Policy Against Workplace Harassment, “Pursuant to Joint Rule 901, it is the policy of the Legislative Assembly to create and maintain an environment in which all members of the Legislative Assembly, legislative employees, and third parties are treated with dignity and respect. Legislators, legislative employees, and third parties have the right to an environment free from workplace harassment, both subtle and overt. The Legislative Assembly strives to eliminate all workplace harassment that legislators, legislative employees, and third parties may encounter.”

O’Brien detailed her allegations against Simons in a testimony before other legislators at the March 4 House Floor Session , in which Simons was ultimately removed from the Legislature. O’Brien, R-Grand Forks, alleged that Simons looked her up and down and said, “So what are you wearing today?” during an interaction on April 13, 2017.

O’Brien also alleged that Simons throughout the years had asked her how things were going at home, being that she was a legislator and a woman in power.

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My remarks from the Committee of the Whole:

Posted by Representative Emily O'Brien on Thursday, March 4, 2021

“Being harassed is embarrassing. It shouldn’t be. I was the one who didn’t do anything wrong, but still, I questioned myself about my reaction to the harassment. I think in part, because I didn’t want to think about myself as a victim,” O’Brien said. “... When I decided to let my voice be heard, some questioned my agenda or belittled my experiences. I heard things like, ‘Oh, it’s just men acting like men.’ Or, ‘you’re just trying to frame me.’ Or ‘you’re on a political witch hunt.’ What do I get out of this? Nothing. I’m getting nothing out of speaking out except to have my voice heard and to help other victims have their voice heard in the hope of fostering a safe and professional working environment.”

Simons’ attorney Lynn Boughey, of Mandan, noted i n a press conference Tuesday in Bismarck that these claims are up for misinterpretation.

“Rep. O’Brien is named because she stood up in the Legislature and told her story… She says, ‘Every couple of days, he’d walk up and give me the up and down. Well, she’s interpreting that as something improper, which if he’d been interviewed (Simons would have said), ‘Oh, of course not... Your outfit is great.’ And that could be said to both male or female,” Boughey said.

A detailed response to each of the allegations was provided to the media — responses that will be posted unedited or redacted on The Dickinson Press Facebook page at the time of publication of this article.

Due to the fact that the Joint Rule 901 was not approved by the Legislative Management until November 2018 and introduced in December 2018, O’Brien claims that her reports were not guided by the policy.

“None of my claims would have been recorded under this policy as it was not into effect yet. My situations did not have a policy to follow. I reported and hoped action would be taken. Legislative council members chose not to go through the reporting process for fear of retaliation, intimidation or an awkward work environment… This sort of behavior is unacceptable and inappropriate. It has no place in our Legislature,” she said.

Simons in his response to the allegations, noted that in November 2018, an independent investigation found that O’Brien's claims that she was discriminated against at the University of North Dakota Center for Innovation because of her political affiliation was determined to be uncorroborated.

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According to the prepared documents provided by Simons, which included an article published on the allegations, a letter to the State Board of Higher Education by O’Brien stated that UND leadership, specifically Provost Thomas DiLorenzo and President Mark Kennedy displayed “unprofessional leadership,” creating an inappropriate working environment. O’Brien asked the board to not renew Kennedy’s contract.

In addition to the responses to allegations raised by O'Brien, Simons' statement provided detailed responses to each of the known allegations released to the media two weeks prior.

In attendance at the Simons presser was District 36 Republican Chairman John Enderle, who noted that he’s been receiving phone calls with a majority of people in the district begging to “please, put him back in again.”

“I realize folks are really curious about what’s going to happen next, but Luke took my thunder away. I wish he would be as curious as to the accusations that remain against him and find out if there’s any truth to that because this is a atrocity. This is a kangaroo courtroom,” Enderle said. “District 36 elected Luke Simons. We stand behind Luke Simons and whatever his decision — if it goes the other way — yes, we will fill that seat. But until then, District 36 elected Luke Simons.”

Boughey added, “If they really cared about these people’s feelings and their concerns and their privacy, they would have followed their own policy and that would have protected these people and they would have had an opportunity to provide confidential information which the investigator could determine that needs to remain confidential of their names. By turning this into a public spectacle and by turning this into a blogosphere without Luke having any opportunity to respond, that created the situation where everything ended up coming out. If they cared about these people, they would have followed their policy.”

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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