Environmental group Honor the Earth will be required to pay $750,000 in damages to a former employee who accused the organization of failing to take her sexual harassment complaints seriously, a jury declared Thursday.
Honor the Earth was a leading opponent of the Line 3 pipeline replacement project. The group’s executive director, Winona LaDuke, is a prominent activist who has been showered with praise and accolades by the media, lawmakers, and the education establishment. LaDuke ran for vice president twice on the Green Party ticket.
She is currently petitioning the Minnesota Legislature for funding for a museum project. When Republicans pointed to LaDuke’s legal troubles, they were told their concerns are “irrelevant.”
LaDuke’s organization was sued in 2019 by former employee Margaret Campbell, who accused Honor the Earth of failing to take allegations of sexual harassment and abuse seriously.
The lawsuit claims that Michael Dahl, a former community organizer for the group, sexually abused a 15-year-old boy in the 1990s.
“Michael Dahl’s inappropriate sexual behavior towards boys became an open secret in the White Earth Community,” the complaint says. LaDuke acknowledged in a 2015 Facebook message that Dahl “probably did have sex” with the minor. In another message, LaDuke said she would “stand with Mike.”
In fall 2014, Dahl began making inappropriate sexual comments towards Campbell, the lawsuit claims. “Who’d you f– last night? … You look like you’ve been f–ed,” Dahl once asked Campbell in front of a group of people, according to the lawsuit.
“LaDuke would refer to Dahl’s status as spiritual leader to justify his actions and diminish the concerns of community members. Because of this, Campbell initially ignored her gut feelings that Dahl was behaving in sexually inappropriate or abusive ways that were designed to push people’s boundaries,” the lawsuit says.
Honor the Earth then retaliated against Campbell by placing her on leave and tarnishing her reputation in activist circles, according to the lawsuit. In a June court order, Judge Gretchen Thilmony found that Honor the Earth failed to preserve and even “intentionally destroyed material evidence” in the case.
Campbell was represented by Gender Justice, which is also a left-wing advocacy organization.
“Instead of acting promptly to protect the community from this predator, Honor the Earth tried to silence Campbell to protect the organization’s reputation,” the lawsuit states.
According to court records, a Becker County jury awarded Campbell $750,000 in damages for claims of sexual harassment and retaliation.
Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, one of the Republicans who was criticized for referencing the lawsuit during a recent committee hearing, reacted to the verdict in a statement Friday.
“Under no circumstances should an organization like Honor the Earth be entitled to taxpayer funds for any reason,” he said. “As legislators, we have an obligation to be good stewards of your tax dollars. That’s why Democrats must drop their plans to send nearly a million dollars to this organization — one that has routinely violated the public trust.”
Honor the Earth did not respond to a request for comment.