State House Speaker Beth Harwell has taken unprecedented action in the Legislature’s investigation of sexual harassment complaints against state Rep. Jeremy Durham — moving the Franklin Republican’s office across the street from the main legislative office buildings and limiting his access to the main buildings to official legislative business.
That move came after the state attorney general delivered a “privileged and confidential” interim report based on interviews with 34 people and concluding that a “pattern of conduct by Representative Durham directed toward a number of women” — some of whom said his conduct made them “uncomfortable in the workplace” and either avoid or refuse to be alone with him.
Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s investigation is ongoing but based on his findings thus far, he wrote to a special House committee that Harwell appointed to investigate the complaints that the “Legislature as an employer should consider whether interim measures are needed to prevent future inappropriate conduct.”
The House’s Ad Hoc Select Committee delivered the AG’s letter and the committee’s recommendations on interim measures to Harwell Wednesday. Harwell, R-Nashville, released the committee’s report and the AG’s letter Thursday, and followed through with the panel’s recommendations, which include:
- Reassigning Durham’s office from the War Memorial Building to the ground floor of the Rachel Jackson Building across the street.
- Limiting his access to the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Building, Rachel Jackson Building, and the second floor of the State Capitol to official legislative business only.
All 132 legislators’ offices are in the War Memorial Building and the adjoining Legislative Plaza, a partially subterranean complex of legislative offices and hearing rooms that is the center of legislative activity other than House and Senate floor sessions, which occur in their respective chambers on the second floor of the State Capitol. The Rachel Jackson Building, across the street from the Legislative Plaza and the State Capitol, houses legislative staff. Durham will be the only lawmaker who’s office is there.
Harwell released a statement saying: “Today I received a memorandum from the Ad Hoc Select Committee regarding Representative Jeremy Durham. Although the Attorney General’s investigation is ongoing, I feel compelled to take proactive steps to protect all parties concerned until the conclusion of the investigation. This is based upon the attached letter from the Attorney General, and the recommendations from the Ad Hoc Select Committee …
“I want the investigation to be thorough and complete. I encourage anyone with information relevant to the investigation to contact the Attorney General’s office.”
Slatery’s letter, which Harwell made public, says that “information obtained from women who related incidents involving Representative Durham indicates: (1) Representative Durham occupied a superior position of power to the women; (2) he obtained personal contact information from the women under the guise of legislative business or another legitimate reason; (3) he initiated contact about nonlegislative matters and attempted to meet the women alone; (4) he usually involved alcohol in his interaction with the women; and (5) he made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature or engaged in inappropriate physical contact with some women.”
The AG’s letter said the 34 people interviewed thus far include current or former legislative members, lobbyists, staff and interns.
“Representative Durham’s access to, interaction with, and behavior toward these women arose from his position as an elected representative and legislative leader,” the letter continued. “A number of the women who continue to work for or with the Legislature avoid or refuse to be alone with Representative Durham, a situation which has affected their ability to perform their jobs.”
Durham did not return calls made to his office and cellphones. His current office in the War Memorial Building was locked. His Nashville attorney, Bill Harbison, told The Tennessean newspaper that Durham objected to the way the investigation has been conducted, calling it “unusual.”
Harbison, president of the Tennessee Bar Association, also told The Tennessean, “We find it surprising and unfair, frankly, that a report would be released without our having had any opportunity to know what was being investigated or what was being discussed.”
Durham, 32, grew up in Adamsville in West Tennessee, graduated from Adamsville High School in 2002, obtained a bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee in 2006 and his law degree from the University of Memphis in 2008.
His wife, Jessica Durham, is a Nashville optometrist who also graduated from UT Knoxville and, in 2010, from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. The website for her optometry practice says Durham was her “college sweetheart.” The couple has no children.
Durham was first elected to the Legislature in 2012 and is in his second two-year term. He resigned his leadership position as House Republican “whip” earlier in the current legislative session after the allegations swirling around him intensified but remained a member of the House. He has filed qualifying papers to run for a third term in his Williamson County district, just south of Nashville, but has at least two Republican primary opponents so far.