Third staffer files sexual harassment complaint against Kentucky lawmaker

August 22, 2013 | | Comments 0

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — News that a third legislative staffer filed a complaint of sexual misconduct against a Western Kentucky lawmaker Thursday prompted calls for reform and a vote to require annual sexual harassment training for state House members.

Gloria Morgan, a non-partisan staffer for the Legislative Research Commission, filed a sexual harassment complaint against Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, with the LRC and the Legislative Ethics Commission. She also accused the LRC of failing to investigate her allegations against Arnold.

The complaint, which was obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader, said Arnold propositioned Morgan one night during the 2009 legislative session. Morgan referred all questions to her lawyer, Brenda Allen.

According to the complaint, Morgan and Arnold were leaving the Capitol Annex at the same time. Morgan said Arnold allegedly rubbed her back down to her waist area, then asked her to “come out and play” that night. After Morgan twice denied Arnold’s advances, “his demeanor changed and he became angry,” the complaint said.

Morgan said she told her boss at the LRC, Anita Muckelroy, about Arnold’s conduct. Morgan said that Muckelroy only seemed to be concerned that Morgan was “nice to Arnold.”

There was no investigation into the incident, the complaint said. Muckelroy did not return a phone call seeking comment.

“At that point, I felt that I needed simply to keep my mouth shut for fear of losing my job,” the complaint said.

Allen said Morgan decided to come forward with the allegations after she heard allegations that Arnold had sexually harassed two other legislative aides.

The two aides — Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner — filed sexual harassment complaints against Arnold last week with the ethics commission. The two women allege in their complaints that Arnold inappropriately touched them.

Arnold, a retired chiropractor who was first elected in 1995, won re-election in 2012 by five votes. Arnold declined to talk to reporters on Wednesday. He was not in the House chamber Thursday and was not expected to attend Friday, the final day in a special legislative session to deal with redistricting.

In a rare floor speech on Thursday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the House will cooperate with the ethics commission as it investigates the allegations and that he will support mandatory sexual harassment training for legislators.

The House unanimously approved a resolution Thursday by Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville, that would require annual sexual harassment training for lawmakers. Legislative Research Commission staff are required to have sexual harassment training but there is no such requirement for elected officials.

In his speech, Stumbo said the House could sanction or expel one of its own members by a two-thirds vote, but cautioned that every person deserves due process.

“Your institution has not treated this incident irresponsibly,” Stumbo said in his speech. “I am sorry these types of allegations involved a member of this body, but to protect the body we must move forward in a responsible but fair manner.”

Many in the House welcomed Stumbo’s pledge to root out sexual harassment and protect legislative staffers, but Rep. Reggie Meeks, D-Louisville, said he would like to see more done to address a culture “that may or may not” exist that tolerates sexual harassment.

“I’m a bit underwhelmed by your words,” Meeks said in a floor speech.

Meeks witnessed Arnold trying to grab Costner’s underwear in 2010, according to the ethics complaints. Meeks, according to the complaints, defended Costner and chastised Arnold for his inappropriate behavior.
Stumbo promised Meeks that he would honor his request.

Stumbo also said Thursday that he will conduct an independent investigation into the LRC’s handling of the complaints to determine if procedures or policies should be changed.

Asked if LRC Executive Director Robert Sherman’s job is in jeopardy, Stumbo replied: “I’m not going to speculate on that because I do think we have to have some fair and partial investigation of whether he did his job properly. But if he didn’t do his job properly, definitely so.”

The ethics complaints filed by Cooper and Costner allege that the LRC investigated their complaints earlier this year and hired an independent mediator to deal with the issue. Arnold was told several times by legislative staff to leave Cooper and Costner alone, but ignored the directives, the women alleged.

Thomas Clay, an attorney who represents Cooper and Costner, said the women felt that the only way to stop the alleged abuse was to speak about it publicly. He said he expects more complaints of sexual harassment to follow.

“This is just the outer skin of the onion,” Clay said.

Clay said House leaders could have done more to stop the alleged sexual harassment, but acknowledged that it’s not clear who has the authority to hold Arnold accountable.

In their complaints, the women said LRC staff told them that the only thing House leaders could do to punish Arnold was take away his staff or remove him from committees.

In 2010, Costner said she told her then-boss, Democratic Rep. John Will Stacy of West Liberty, about Arnold trying to grab her underwear. Stacy told her that Arnold was harmless and no formal report was taken, the complaint said.

Stacy did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly, the highest-ranking woman in Democratic leadership, issued a statement Thursday saying that she will seek reforms to the LRC’s sexual harassment policy if necessary.

“As the first woman in House leadership, I take very seriously my role as a voice for Kentucky women,” Overly said. “In the near future, I will offer legislation to ensure that the LRC takes any and all necessary steps to build and maintain the highest level of workplace protections for all of its employees because Kentuckians deserve the kind of leadership in Frankfort that is as decent, fair, honest and hardworking as they are.”

The Democratic and Republican women in the House also issued a joint statement Thursday.

“Sexual harassment cannot and will not be tolerated,” the statement said. “We will await the results of the investigation and demand that during the process the employees who have brought these allegations forward be protected from any retaliation. We also expect the process to be thorough, fair and swift.”

Filed Under: State Government

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