A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

House leaders release findings in GOP sexual harassment settlement; send to ethics commission

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By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

House Republican leadership released findings late Friday of an investigation into a settlement involving allegations of sexual harassment.

The investigation was performed by the Louisville law firm Middleton Reutlinger, PSC, and reportedly cost taxpayers $50,000.

The law firm said they interviewed nearly 40 people, including all current staff, except for one who refused to talk with them despite several requests. They also spoke with all four lawmakers involved in the settlement, several former staff members and other GOP House members, who the firm believed had information to provide.

Former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, resigned his leadership post Nov. 5, but kept his House seat, after he admitted sending inappropriate text messages to his accuser. He denied any sexual harassment.

Former Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover

The three other Republicans in the complaint are Reps. Jim DeCesare of Rockfield, Brian Linder of Dry Ridge and Michael Meredith of Brownsville. All three were removed from committee chairmanships by the remaining House GOP leaders. Media reports have also identified Hoover’s Chief of Staff Ginger Wills as parties in the settlement.

One finding was that while work is being accomplished, “There are significant divisions within the partisan staff, which is causing tensions for several of the staff.”

While none of the divisions are due to illegal activity, the report states they, “relate to any number of several factors, including political factions, personality issues and other causes, that have nothing to do with sex, gender, or any other protected classification. The fact that there are three former chiefs of staff on the staff, contributes to the divide.”
The report notes, “the partisan staff has experienced ‘growing pains’ in tripling in size.” It grew from seven to 24, when Republicans won the majority in the House. The result from this and the other factors, “the staff has not run as effectively as it could.”

Another finding is there is no written policy for partisan staff to report harassment, while there is a detailed one in place for non-partisan LRC employees. “There is no rationale for non-partisan and partisan staff being treated differently with regard to anti-harassment policies and procedures,” the report says.

One positive finding from the report states, “Our investigation revealed from the documents and witness interviews to suggest there had not been any sexual harassment or other inappropriate conduct.”

They also said they saw no evidence of public corruption or other unlawful conduct.

The law firm said none of parties involved in the settlement would agree to interviews, citing the confidentiality clause it contained. Nor could they obtain a copy of the demand letter sent by the attorney for the former staffer. The law firm relied on conversations with those staffers who say they saw the letter. They also stated no complaints of harassment were reported prior to the demand letter sent to Hoover in October.

Middleton Reutlinger did make eight recommendations in their report:

• That the office establishes a clear anti-harassment policy, similar to that for non-partisan LRC staff members.

• That all staff members receive extensive training on how to report harassment, and to report such conduct to them, as well as prohibited conduct they observe occurring to other staff members.

• That the General Assembly enact rules providing that a member must report to the LRC General Counsel any complaint of discrimination, harassment or hostile work environment made against them by a staff member.

• The lawmakers enact a similar rule requiring members disclose to the LRC General Counsel any resolution of such accusations.

• The office should consider hiring a human resource professional and/or a deputy chief of staff to better manage human resources problems.

• File a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission against the four members who settled the allegations of harassment, so subpoenas can be served to require the disclosure of the underlying allegations, activity and resolution

• Conduct periodic “all staff” meetings, to promote camaraderie and communications, and curtail some of the divisions.

• Because of issues raised with regard to information to the communications office, hold periodic meetings between committee chairs, the policy staff assigned to that committee and the communications staff person assigned to that committee.

Earlier this week, Jordan Morgan, daughter of Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, reported receiving inappropriate text messages from Meredith, while she worked in Gov. Matt Bevin’s office. She has since become a prosecutor in northern Kentucky.

As a result of the report, Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, filed a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission alleging possible ethics violations by the four House members. In it, he requested the commission use its subpoena powers to obtain the demand letter and subsequent agreement to confirm if any ethics violations occurred.

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, issued a statement in response to the release of the Middleton Reutlinger report:

“We have said all along that this investigation needs to be independent and objective to get to the truth of these allegations and should be conducted by an organization like the Legislative Ethics Commission, a process that I want to note Rep. Jim Wayne [D-Louisville] first initiated. I am pleased to see the House Republican leaders now agree with that approach as well. The House Democratic Caucus also supports any effort that strengthens zero-tolerance policies regarding workplace harassment.”

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