TOPEKA — A top administrator of disability services in Kansas is accused of pressuring for sex from a woman employed by a Topeka company under his regulatory control, sending her a graphic masturbation video and proposing she could swap sex with him for a supervisory job in state government.
The Topeka Capital-Journal confirmed through interviews and documents evidence indicating Brandt Haehn subjected the woman to months of sexual harassment in 2016 by sending her provocative messages and pornographic images.
In a telephone conversation between Haehn and the woman that strayed from state business, the woman said, Haehn offered her employment in the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback if she consented to sex acts with him every few days.
At the time, Haehn was in a high-ranking job at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services that involved his representation of the administration before the Kansas Legislature.
“The messages were graphic and sexual in nature, ranging from words to pictures to videos,” said Jennifer Gill, who was director of a Newton facility for people with disabilities when Haehn began sending her appeals for sex.
She said Haehn acknowledged he risked personal or professional consequences if his behavior were uncovered. She said he remarked about “having a lot on the line,” but kept pursuing her anyway.
“He could recognize that it was inappropriate and that he had a lot to lose, but he just kept sending them,” Gill said.
In response to inquiries by the Topeka Capital-Journal, KDADS confirmed Haehn was disciplined by the agency for conduct involving Gill. Haehn was suspended for a period of weeks, but allowed to return to his previous role as a KDADS commissioner reporting to the Cabinet secretary.
Haehn, who was essentially a deputy secretary at KDADS, remained at the agency until resigning in June to take a job at Amerigroup Kansas. It is one of three large health insurance companies operating the state’s Medicaid program, which Haehn and other KDADS staff were responsible for regulating.
“Although we usually don’t respond to inquiries regarding personnel matters,” said KDADS Secretary Tim Keck, “we’ll make an exception in this case to say that as soon as we became aware of these allegations, KDADS put the employee in question on administrative leave. Mr. Haehn is no longer employed by the state.”
Haehn was hired by KDADS in August 2015 and became the agency’s top administrator of home and community services under the privatized Medicaid system known as KanCare.
Gill said she was never romantically or sexually involved with Haehn and was unsuccessful in attempts to deter the harassment.
She hesitated to involve her employer and state officials in the matter because of apprehension that a personnel conflict with a prominent KDADS commissioner might damage her career or the interests of her employer, the Topeka-based disability services company Equi-Venture Farms.
She said her worst fears about standing up to Haehn’s behavior were realized during the past year. She was fired from her Equi-Venture job after reporting the harassment. She was undercut by a non-compete clause in a contract barring her from Kansas jobs in her field, despite 20 years of experience. She returned home to Tennessee after losing her house, and her family continues to suffer financially and emotionally. She is disturbed by the confounding state government process for dealing with sexual harassment complaints.
“If I had to do it all over again,” she said, “I think I would have probably just maintained a working relationship and found a new job. I’ve lost everything.”
The quid pro quo
Gill, a mother of three who commuted from Wichita to her disability services job in Newton, said she informed Equi-Venture executive director Ben Swinnen of the sexual harassment after Haehn said a managerial job at KDADS could be hers if she engaged in both oral and vaginal sex with him two or three times a week. She said she informed state investigators of Haehn’s offer of a quid pro quo.
Gill said Swinnen once responded with laughter when asked to help convince Haehn to stop the sexual solicitations. In an interview, one of Gill’s former colleagues at the Newton office confirmed Swinnen attempted to pass off Haehn’s actions as a joke that was being misinterpreted.
Following Gill’s disclosure to Swinnen, she said Equi-Venture raised work-related performance issues with her. A couple of days after Christmas in December 2016, Swinnen notified Gill she had been terminated.
Swinnen didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on Gill’s allegations of sexual harassment or the pending Kansas Human Rights Commission complaint filed by Gill against Equi-Venture.
Last month, however, a special investigator with the Kansas Human Rights Commission exploring Gill’s discrimination complaint indicated Swinnen had implicated Haehn in wrongdoing. Investigator Robert Esterling sent Gill a document that included the following: “Equi-Venture Farms LLC alleges that Mr. Swinnen asked Mr. Haehn if he texted a video, and claims Mr. Haehn confirmed this.”
Gill said she no longer had access to many of the texts from Haehn, but she forwarded copies of a masturbation video Haehn sent to her to a colleague at Equi-Venture, Rose Paige, as well as to a close family member for safekeeping in the event of a formal investigation. The Capital-Journal reviewed the 30-second video, which depicts a man masturbating while in a seated position.
“She used to show me the text messages anytime she got one,” said Paige, who worked with Gill at Equi-Venture’s facility in Newton. “I told her, ‘That’s not right.’ ”
Haehn didn’t respond to requests for comment on the sexual harassment allegations. Neither Amerigroup Kansas lobbyist Gary Haulmark, who works with Haehn on state government affairs, nor Amerigroup corporate public relations representatives would discuss the matter.
Amerigroup is one of a trio of insurance companies chosen by the Brownback administration to operate the state’s $3 billion Medicaid program. Under KanCare, dozens of service providers, including Equi-Venture, work with disabled Kansans. Equi-Venture’s business model depends on maintaining payments through the KanCare insurance firms.
Texts, pictures, video
In a series of interviews, Gill said Haehn began reaching out to her inappropriately in September 2016 after Equi-Venture sought assistance resolving a regulatory problem in Newton. Equi-Venture claimed the Community Developmental Disability Organization, which helps direct disabled people to service providers, was overtly biased.
Gill said Haehn attached a note to an email regarding the bias complaint that asked whether Gill recalled they worked together years ago at Starkey, a Wichita organization that offers employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.
“I didn’t realize he was a (KDADS) commissioner,” Gill said. “He later called, but I was relieved because I knew somebody who had the authority and power to come in and help make a change for some of these people who are not getting the services they should be getting.”
Gill, who formerly was employed by the state of Kansas in a division that handled licensing of care facilities, said she spoke with Haehn by telephone about a half-dozen times about problems in Newton. Haehn vowed to devote agency resources to examining issues raised by Equi-Venture, she said.
Then, Gill said, the harassment started.
“He began sending messages,” she said. “He would say pretty direct, blatant things. I didn’t respond in any kind of sexual way back. I just didn’t know what to say. I’ve never had to deal with anything like that. I said one time, ‘Don’t you have a wife?’ He said, ‘Yes, but we have a very open relationship.’ ”
Many of these texts were sent by Haehn at night, she said. For example, she said, he once claimed to be lying in bed while narrating his desire for sex with her. She said he followed those remarks with a picture of his penis.
Gill said her predicament was made difficult by a personal and professional relationship that existed between Swinnen and Haehn. At a point when she had shunned Haehn’s calls, she was talking to Swinnen on the telephone about a work issue when he suddenly handed the phone to Haehn. She said the two apparently were having dinner together.
Before dismissed by Equi-Venture, Gill said her boss drove to the Newton office and asked her to turn over the cellphone she used for work. She declined Swinnen’s request because she had purchased the device and because evidence of Haehn’s misconduct was on that phone.
“He said, ‘Can I have the phone?’ I said, ‘No.’ He gave me a look,” Gill said. “That’s one thing I’ll tell you about Ben. You don’t tell him no. Make him mad and cross him, and you’re done.”
She said Swinnen chose to “buddy up” with Haehn and shield Equi-Venture rather than stand with one of his employees.
Haehn’s improper communication with Gill ceased about the time she was fired by Equi-Venture in December 2016, Gill said. She said she disputed Swinnen’s explanation for the dismissal, which made reference to accounting issues and an assertion Gill arrived for work in an “alerted state of mind.”
Swinnen’s summary email to Gill: “For clarity purposes. The termination is effective immediately.”
Without a source of income, Gill said she filed for unemployment with the Kansas Department of Labor. She also sought payment of bonuses she was owed by Equi-Venture. In February 2017, she received formal confirmation of her discrimination complaint at the Kansas Human Rights Commission. She also reached out to inform KDADS of her experience with Haehn.
“I’m trying to juggle my unemployment, my unpaid wages, my emotional issues and the fact that I can’t get a job in the only field I know. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” she said.
Her unemployment claim eventually was resolved, but she never got the bonus money. Gill said she received a letter from the Department of Labor indicating she was terminated by Equi-Venture for reasons unrelated to her employment. Gill described the letter as “my one victory.”
Gill said she was contacted in March by Kahlea Porter, senior legal counsel at KDADS. The masturbation video was forwarded to KDADS, Gill said. Among other questions asked by Porter, Gill said, was whether she had encouraged Haehn’s interest in her as a sexual partner.
“She said that and I was done. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. You can only be kicked so many times when you’re down,” Gill said. “I’ve constantly through this process been second-guessed, been asked what I did wrong.”
Angela de Rocha, director of communications at KDADS, said she wasn’t aware of every question that might be asked by legal counsel exploring alleged sexual harassment.
“There’s no attempt to assign blame or deflect it,” de Rocha said. “It doesn’t do the agency any good to try to deflect it.”
Gill said she intentionally stepped away from the conflict, weary of the state’s laborious system for vetting sexual-harassment claims. She chose to concentrate on rebuilding her career in Tennessee and addressing the personal needs of her children on a salary far below what her family had grown accustomed to.
She changed her mind about speaking publicly after informed of the surprising disclosure by Swinnen to the Kansas Human Rights Commission that Haehn confirmed at least part of her harassment allegation. She also took notice of the wave of sexual harassment allegations across the United States and recognized many responses to those reports suggested the nation’s tolerance for sexual harassment appeared to be evolving.
“I do not regret standing up for myself,” Gill said, “but I do regret actually expecting the systems in place to assist and actually work without blaming the victim.”