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Utah Senate launches investigation into Sen. Gene Davis harassment allegations

Gene Davis, at his desk in the Utah State Senate building, May 24, 2022
Ivana Martinez
/
KUER
State Sen. Gene Davis at his desk in the Utah State Senate building, May 2022.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, announced an independent investigation Friday morning into allegations made against Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City. The move has the support of the Democratic Senate Minority Leadership.

The sexual harassment allegations were publicized by a former intern and campaign staffer on social media two days earlier.

Sonia Weglinski interned for Davis during the 2022 legislative session and later worked as a campaign staffer during the senator’s failed re-election bid. During that time, the 20-year-old alleges that the Salt Lake Democrat engaged in repeated instances of inappropriate behavior toward her, including wiping her backside with a towel without her permission.

The Senate provided no further comment on the investigation to KUER but said “it will go through a procurement process to hire a private entity.”

The Utah House Democratic Caucus and Utah Democratic Party also issued statements condemning harassment and supporting the investigation. The Salt Lake County Democratic Party announced that Davis is temporarily suspended from party events, committees and party-related activities.

KUER’s attempts to contact Davis through phone and email were unsuccessful. He told The Salt Lake Tribune he was “flabbergasted” by the accusations.

In a statement, Utah Democratic Party Chair Diane Lewis said those who engage in harassment should “face the consequences.” She added there should be a full investigation into harassment of any kind within the party, but said the party is unable to investigate yet, according to its anti-harassment policy, which was adopted in 2019.

“The party cannot launch our own investigation until there is an official complaint to us,” Lewis’ statement continued. “However, I am glad to see that the State Senate has begun the process of an independent investigation to gather the facts about the alleged harassment by Sen. Davis.”

Former party vice-chair Nadia Mahallati said there is action that can be taken because the party’s bylaws allow it.

“While this policy sets forth our goal of promoting an environment that is free of harassment, the policy does not limit [the party’s] authority to discipline or take remedial action for conduct that the party determines to be unacceptable, regardless of whether that conduct meets the definition of harassment,” reads the policy.

She said the party is deciding not to reprimand Davis, despite having the power to.

“It doesn't say that the only way to do anything is upon receipt of an official complaint,” Mahallati said. “They could just decide to do as the Salt Lake County Party did, and issue a temporary suspension.”

Utah Democratic Party Communications Director Ben Anderson further explained why a written complaint is required to trigger an investigation.

“We want to ensure that an investigation is only launched when that is the express wish of those involved in the complaint,” he said. “This policy also prevents inquiries from being launched based on word-of-mouth alone rather than a full complaint with a formal request for investigation by an interested party.”

Anderson added that the party’s executive committee does have the authority to act outside of the guidelines of the anti-harassment policy.

“As the leadership of the party, the executive committee does have the power to take emergency action absent a full investigation to discipline anyone who they find to have violated the party's rules on harassment,” he said. “At this time, they are planning a special session in order to discuss action on this issue.”

Davis, who has served in the state Legislature for 35 years, was accused of similar sexual misconduct by a former staffer on social media in 2021.

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