Gene Davis to retire early after removal from committee assignments following Utah Senate investigation into sexual misconduct

An independent investigation initiated by the Utah Senate found that Davis ‘more likely than not’ violated Senate harassment policies in his interactions with a former intern.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, discusses a bill during the Legislative session, Jan. 28, 2022. After the conclusion of an investigation by the Utah Senate into sexual misconduct allegations by Davis, the longtime state senator was removed from his committee assignments on Oct. 19, 2022.

Embattled state Sen. Gene Davis will retire early, he announced late Wednesday afternoon, after being removed from all committee assignments and urged to resign following an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against the outgoing and longtime Democratic lawmaker.

Senate President Stuart Adams announced Wednesday morning that an independent investigation found that accusations leveled against Davis by a former intern in August “more likely than not” violated the Legislature’s harassment policy.

That afternoon, Davis announced that he plans to retire on Nov. 19, according to an email written by his attorney that was obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune after it was sent to other media outlets.

Davis, who lost a primary election to Democrat Nate Blouin in June, will remain in the Senate District 13 seat through the final week of the Legislature’s 2022 interim meetings — and only days before his successor, either Blouin or Republican challenger Roger L. Stout, can begin filing bills.

Neither Davis nor his attorney, Benjamin Grindstaff, responded to requests for comment from The Tribune on Wednesday.

“We strive to create and maintain to have a respectful and professional work environment and are committed to addressing any allegations. I want to reiterate that the Senate does not and will not tolerate workplace harassment, which is why I directed an independent investigation to evaluate the allegations,” Adams said in a statement.

According to a statement from Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, Davis has resigned from the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“Based on the independent investigator’s findings, the Senate Democrats will take action this afternoon during our caucus meeting,” Mayne said. She continued, “He will no longer serve in his caucus leadership role and has been removed from his caucus-appointed committees, which include the Executive Appropriations Committee and the Legislative Management Committee.”

In an Instagram post made in early August, University of Utah student Sonia Weglinski accused the senator of, in multiple instances, touching her in ways that made her feel uncomfortable during her time as his intern during the most recent legislative session and while she worked on his reelection campaign in the spring.

“Though Senator Davis continues to deny any wrongdoing, recent events have made it impractical for him to continue his work in the Senate,” his attorney’s letter reads. “So, in the best interest of his constituency and the people of Utah, Senator Davis has determined to step aside and resign from the Utah State Senate.”

In August, Davis told The Tribune that he was “flabbergasted” by the allegations, but confirmed at least one of the incidents Weglinski described in the Instagram post.

In a text message sent to The Tribune, Weglinski said on Wednesday, “This whole process has been emotional and exhausting, but I’m happy about the findings and conclusion. More than anything though, I want everyone to remember that I wasn’t the only victim and there were others before me, and that their experiences were just as valid as mine.”

Weglinski is the second woman to publicly accuse Davis of sexual misconduct. In a 2021 Facebook post, former legislative staffer Elizabeth Converse alleged that Davis behaved inappropriately toward her at the Utah Capitol and on a legislative trip. Converse wrote in the post that she declined to have her experiences included in a formal complaint against Davis, but she had notified her superiors of the behavior.

The senate investigation of Weglinski’s complaint, conducted by attorneys from the law firm Parsons Behle & Latimer, examined Davis’ conduct during the legislative session and his reelection campaign, noting that Weglinski’s responsibilities overlapped and could not be separated. The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether Davis violated Senate policies, a redacted memorandum said.

Investigators focused on four allegations against the senator: that he played with Weglinski’s feet; that he invaded her personal boundaries; that he showed an inappropriate TV show to her; and that he served Weglinski, who was underage, alcohol.

In an interview with investigators, Weglinski said that on one occasion, she was wearing open-toed shoes and reclining in a chair when Davis grabbed her toes as if playing “little piggies.” She estimated he repeated the behavior “four or five times” during her time working with him.

Davis reportedly admitted to investigators that he touched Weglinski’s feet once, tapping them in an attempt to wake her up after she fell asleep on his couch.

That admission, investigators wrote, supported Weglinski’s allegation that he touched her feet “without consent or invitation.”

Weglinski also alleged in her interview with investigators that the senator put his arm around her waist while descending stairs at the Utah Capitol, and that he would hand- or spoon-feed her.

Although investigators could not find witnesses to substantiate the first allegation, they found that Davis likely “invaded Ms. Weglinski’s personal space.” During the investigation, they wrote, “It became apparent to us that Sen. Davis casually touched Ms. Weglinski without apparent thought as to Ms. Weglinski’s boundaries.”

One witness interviewed for the investigation, whose name was redacted, described Davis’ relationship with Weglinski as “odd,” while another reportedly said that the senator was “huggy” with her and “touched her on the arm or shoulder and pulled her close to him.”

In addressing Weglinski’s allegations that he would hand- or spoon-feed her, Davis told investigators that the pair never dined together — a claim witnesses refuted to investigators. One recalled that Weglinski once cooked a meal for Davis at his home.

Davis also allegedly showed Weglinski a TV show that the former intern described as “vulgar” and “grotesque,” showing “sex scene after sex scene.”

The series he showed, which a witness recalled as “You’re the Worst” on Hulu, is rated TV-MA, meaning its content is intended for mature audiences. That witness described it as “raunchy” with “all kinds of nudity and sex,” and said they were “bugged” that Davis was viewing the show while an intern was in the room.

The 20-year-old Weglinski, who was 19 for the majority of the time she worked with Davis, said that the senator once gave her a shot of tequila after a campaign meeting. She said she took a sip of the hard liquor but did not finish it.

The senator denied offering Weglinski tequila, but admitted he served tequila during weekend campaign meetings. A witness interviewed for the investigation, however, corroborated Weglinski’s allegation.

Serving alcohol to an intern does not violate Senate policies, investigators noted, but it may violate Utah’s criminal code.

Weglinski told investigators that she delayed coming forward with the accusations because she did not want them to be labeled as a political ploy during the Democratic primary election, which Davis lost to challenger Nate Blouin, and because of the imbalance of power between her and the senator.

“Additionally,” the memorandum says, “Ms. Weglinski only ‘wanted to be an intern,’ which she viewed as prestigious, and did not want to deal with the ‘drama’ that would follow a complaint.”

Investigators wrote that because third-party witnesses “support and corroborate” Weglinski’s account, and because Davis was not truthful in his interview with investigators, they found that he “more likely than not” violated the Senate’s policies in his interactions with the intern.

“We did not find Sen. Davis to be forthcoming or completely honest during his interview,” investigators wrote. “He made several inconsistent statements and certain of his claims were contradicted by other witnesses.”

The Utah Democratic Party temporarily suspended Davis in August, pending the results of this investigation. In a statement, it also called for Davis to step down.

“The Utah Democratic Party has referred similar allegations to its own judicial standing committee for investigation and has been awaiting the resolution of the Senate investigation. Now that the Senate investigation has concluded, the party’s judicial standing committee will finalize and complete its findings in due course,” a spokesperson for the party said in a statement.

Salt Lake County Democrats announced last month that, after the county party conducted its own investigation, it was suspending Davis from all party activities for two years and calling for the senator’s resignation.

Following the party’s action, an attorney representing Davis said in a letter sent to journalists that the investigative process was unfair and that the senator did not have a chance to be heard. Party members involved in the investigative process dispute those claims.

“Senator Davis has done nothing that would warrant his resignation from the Utah State Senate,” the letter, written by attorney Benjamin Grindstaff, read. “Senator Davis will continue to be a fervent voice on Capitol Hill for public education and for the health and economic stability of Utah families.”