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Tenn. Lottery sexual harassment allegations exposed

May 31, 2006, 8:55 am

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Tennessee Lottery

Details released on harassment complaints; ex-lottery executive accused of groping

The staff had just launched a huge project and it was time to celebrate: A shindig at the Maxwell House hotel.

There was fun. There was drinking. There was dancing. But some of the female workers complained that things went too far.

A male executive "grabbed me on my butt," one woman later reported. "It was long enough to know his hand was there. Immediately pushed him away and moved."

The scene was the launch party of the Tennessee Lottery in January 2004.

The male exec accused of inappropriate behavior was Steve Adams, then the lottery's chief administrative officer and former state treasurer for more than a dozen years.

Details of the allegations against Adams — four harassment complaints at three lottery-related functions — were made public Tuesday, a year after Gov. Phil Bredesen said a sexual harassment problem exists in state government, and nine months after the governor outlined new policies to deal with harassment complaints.

Adams was fired from his $180,000-a-year lottery position in January of this year after being accused of sexual harassment.

However, documents including the lottery's internal investigation in his case were kept under wraps until a judge ruled that the lottery could not keep them secret.

After the documents were released Tuesday, Adams said that he had a couple of drinks at the social events but was not drunk.

"I don't think there is one valid complaint of workplace harassment contained in the entire report," he said.

Adams admitted having had too much to drink at two of the events and was described by partygoers at the other event as intoxicated, the file showed.

At the launch party, witnesses said he was pushy about dancing with co-workers when they didn't want to, asking one reluctant partner, "You didn't think an old man could groove like this, did you?"

The former state treasurer, 55, was counseled after each incident, but no formal investigation was started until the third complaint, nearly two years after the first allegation, according to the lottery report.

Adams told internal investigators that he had no recollection of the behavior ascribed to him at two of the events. He had a different recollection about the third, according to the investigative report.

"The common factor in all of these situations is the amount of alcohol consumed by Steve and then the question is how much that plays into Steve's conduct and behavior in social settings," the investigation summary showed.

In his comments Tuesday, Adams pointed to one complaint by a woman employee of a lottery contractor, who "goes out of her way to comment that there was no inappropriate physical contact."

The woman had told investigators that Adams held her close while dancing but added, "At no time did Steve do anything sexual in nature, nor touch me inappropriately." This took place at a party at a lottery convention in Minneapolis in September 2005.

Another woman, involved in a separate complaint, said she did not feel sexually harassed.

"I never complained about sexual harassment," the lottery employee said in an interview Tuesday. "I was not the one who said, 'Steve Adams did this.' It was second-hand information they got. I never went forward, and I did not view it that way."

In that case, investigators said Adams asked the female lottery employee to take a cruise with him but not to tell anyone because he was married.

Adams said that conversation progressed differently and that "it was not his intent to ask her about going on a cruise with him," the report showed.

Instead, he was suggesting to the woman that she go on a singles cruise to meet people.

Adams' termination was recommended based on the totality of all the complaints, lottery CEO Rebecca Paul said.

"What was real important to us was to protect the rights of all parties from the very beginning," Paul said Tuesday. She sought the advice of internal attorneys, lawyers with the state Attorney General's office and with a private law firm that specializes in workplace issues, she said.

The lottery argued in court that the documents in Adams' case were protected by attorney-client privilege.

The investigation file was made public after online newspaper NashvillePost.com sued in Davidson County Chancery Court. The lottery last week declined to appeal the chancellor's ruling that the file should be made public.

In her ruling, Chancellor Carol McCoy said Adams was not given due process during the investigation that led to his firing.

Adams has also said he did not believe his termination was justified, and joined with NashvillePost.com in pressing for the investigation to be made public.

The first complaints about bad behavior by Adams were lodged shortly after he was lured by the lottery away from his job as state treasurer, a post he held 17 years.

Two women said Adams behaved badly during the launch party at the Maxwell House, including one woman who said Adams grabbed her buttocks and another who he persistently asked to dance, the documents say.

Adams complained that memos written in the file could have been written after the fact and post-dated to build a case against him. He also said that he was not reprimanded, nor told another complaint would cost him his job, as was described by Paul in one such memo.

Paul said that is not true.

Steve Adams, the Tennessee Lottery's former chief administrative officer and former state treasurerChancellor Carol McCoyLottery CEO Rebecca Paul
Steve Adams, the Tennessee Lottery's former chief administrative officer and former state treasurer Chancellor Carol McCoyLottery CEO Rebecca Paul

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