PolitiFact: No, Dean Phillips Was Not Involved in a Sexual Harassment Case at One of His Companies

A television ad in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District attempts to tie Democratic candidate Dean Phillips to a congressman accused of domestic abuse.

Phillips’ opponent, Republican congressman Erik Paulsen, aired the ad that starts off by saying “sleazy Keith Ellison and shady Dean Phillips, both caught up in another sexual harassment scandal,” making it appear as if the two men are involved in the same scandal.

Ellison is accused of domestic abuse by his former girlfriend. The congressman is currently running for Minnesota attorney general and has denied the allegations.

But the focus here is the claim that Phillps is “charged with ignoring sexual harassment and discrimination at his companies,” as the ad’s narrator goes on to say.

The full text:

“Sleazy Keith Ellison and Shady Dean Phillips, both caught up in another sexual harassment scandal. Ellison accused of physical abuse. Phillips charged with ignoring sexual harassment and discrimination at his companies. Sued over and over again. A whistleblower says he told Phillips’ board of the abuse, warning the harassment was a serious problem that was being covered up. Keith Ellison. Dean Phillips. They are the problem. Dean Phillips, your time is up.”

Phillips is airing a rebuttal ad calling Paulsen’s attack false.

We wanted to sort out the facts. We found that Phillips is not connected to Ellison’s case, and the allegation against him is based on a decades-old lawsuit filed against an organization where he was once a board member.

The ad makes the suggestion that Phillips has been “sued over and over” and was “charged” with ignoring sexual harassment at his companies. We found no evidence that supports either claim.

To be clear: Phillips is not involved in the domestic abuse allegations levied against Ellison by a former girlfriend, nor is Phillips involved in any sexual harassment case.

The Allina Health lawsuit

The Paulsen campaign points to a February 2007 Star Tribune article that discusses a lawsuit brought against Allina Health by seven nurses who said they were sexually harassed by a doctor at one of the health group’s clinics. The case was settled out of court.

The news account quotes a letter that was sent by another doctor to an Allina board member.

The doctor vouched for the lawsuit, saying the harassment was a serious problem at the clinic and is being “covered up by the Allina administration.”

Phillips served on the board of directors from 2005 to 2011, and while the board advises Allina, it doesn’t “run the company” as the ad implies.

There is also no evidence the note was actually sent to Phillips, and his campaign says he has no memory of receiving such a letter or having any board discussions about the harassment case.

Shortly after the ad aired, Lori Peterson, the attorney who represented the women, contacted the Paulsen campaign requesting they take it down.

She has not gotten a response, Peterson said, and sent the campaign another note Friday.

“You have been asked, for weeks, to stop using my clients in your ads. You have misrepresented their experiences, lied about your opponent, and further traumatized these women,” Peterson wrote. “You have dragged these women into your campaign against their will and you won’t even respond to their requests that you stop.”

She goes on to say that her clients want nothing to do with Paulsen’s campaign, and that she has told him repeatedly that Dean Phillips “had nothing to do with this case. No allegations were made about him and he had no involvement in the litigation.”

Our ruling

Paulsen attempts to tie Phillips to another Democratic candidate involved in a domestic abuse case and says he “ignored sexual harassment allegations at his companies.”

But Phillips has nothing to do with the accusations against Ellison.

Phillips served on the board of a health organization that was sued over sexual harassment allegations in 2007, but the lawyer in that case said he had nothing to do with it. There is also no evidence that proves he was informed or received a letter about the harassment.

Paulsen’s ad misleads viewers by connecting Phillips to a domestic abuse case he is not involved in, and implies some sort of formal action was taken against Phillips (“charged with ignoring”) at a company he runs, neither of which are true.

We rate it False.

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