A newly-elected state senator says she faced discrimination from Statehouse security while attending her first women’s caucus meeting.
Tina Maharath, who will represent Ohio’s 3rd Senate district in Franklin County, is the first Asian-American woman elected to the legislature. She says when she tried to get past a checkpoint at the Riffe Center, where lawmakers’ offices are located, the security guard treated her as if she didn't speak English.
“He just starts speaking to me as if I’m an idiot, and just says, ‘You, you get badge, you get badge, you go downstairs.’ I’m just like, what?” Maharath said in a video posted to Facebook on Tuesday. "I just couldn't believe that the hall, across the hall on my first day, I get discriminated.”
Maharath says it might have been unusual for a state senator to visit the Ohio House side of the Riffe Center, but she simply wanted to be treated equally like any other visitor.
“Had I been Caucasian, May he not [sic] have possibly taunted my comprehension of the English language,” Maharath wrote in a comment.
Ohio State Highway Patrol says they spoke with the state senator-elect and are investigating her complaint. The Patrol adds that they are currently scheduling with Maharath a tour of the security operations at the Capitol.
Maharath won her election by an upset in November, despite not being endorsed by the Ohio Democratic Party. Her Republican opponent spent over $1 million in attack ads, mostly focusing on personal issues in her background.
"I just went through racism this whole campaign because of the color of my skin, and now the place of employment is judging me for the color of my skin,” Maharath said in the video. “I can’t even walk in my colleague’s building.”
Maharath is just the latest state lawmaker – and woman of color – to accuse Statehouse security of discrimination. Earlier this year, state Rep. Emilia Sykes filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission over what she described as excessive stops by Statehouse security. Sykes, a two-term African-American legislator, says that a guard once told her she “didn’t look like a legislator.”
An internal investigation by the Highway Patrol cleared officers of bias, saying Sykes was searched because of her inactive badge.