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Legislative aide who alleged sexual harassment calls for resignation of LRC chief

August 27, 2013 | | Comments 0

By Valarie Honeycutt Spears and Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

One of three women who filed a sexual harassment complaint against a Western Kentucky lawmaker said Tuesday she thought both the lawmaker and Legislative Research Commission Executive Director Robert Sherman should resign.

LRC employee Yolanda Costner, who has filed a sexual harassment complaint against Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that “I think our director has failed us.”

“Bobby Sherman needs to resign as well in this,” Costner said. “We need a complete reorganization … so the organization can move forward and everybody will feel like they have an opportunity to have a sounding board to go to when we have issues that are of concern to us. Right now we don’t have that.”

Sherman, who oversees about 350 LRC employees, declined to comment Tuesday on Costner’s statement. He said last week that he would welcome any review of how he and his staff handled the sexual harassment complaints.

Costner and fellow LRC employees Cassaundra Cooper and Gloria Morgan have filed sexual harassment complaints against Arnold with the Legislative Ethics Commission. Costner and Cooper alleged in their Aug. 16 complaints that Arnold inappropriately touched them. Morgan’s complaint, filed later, said Arnold propositioned Morgan one night during the 2009 legislative session.

Also on Tuesday, Costner and Cooper confirmed that they have filed complaints against Arnold with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. The women would not discuss details of their complaints to the commission, which investigates allegations of discrimination in employment, sexual harassment, demotion, disability discrimination, and denial of rental housing based upon membership in a protected class. Costner and Cooper are black.

Human Rights Commission spokeswoman Victoria Stephens said Tuesday that the agency’s officials could not comment on an open case.

Arnold, a retired chiropractor who was first elected in 1995, won re-election in 2012 by five votes. Arnold declined last week to talk to reporters. Calls to his home were not answered on Tuesday.

Costner said she was outraged that she and Cooper did not get a better response from the director’s office to the allegations in the complaints that Arnold touched Costner’s underwear and hit Cooper on her behind when she bent over to pick up a “ flat of water” to put in an office refrigerator.

Costner said she and Cooper hired an attorney because “it felt like LRC’s director’s office was not fighting for us.”

“LRC does not have an efficient sexual complaint harassment system,” Costner said. “They didn’t know what to do.”

The women said Roy Collins, the LRC’s assistant director for human resources, spoke with Arnold and told him to stay away from the women.

Costner said she and Cooper began to call the LRC director’s office or Collins whenever Arnold came near them and soon felt that they had become a nuisance.

“It just became apparent to us that instead of really taking a strong stance against what was going on and trying to protect us as victims, they started treating us as if we were a nuisance to them and that he was a victim,” Cooper said Tuesday.

After media outlets published stories about their complaints last week, Costner said it “was the safest we felt in years.”

Costner said she and Cooper have not heard from a mediator that LRC hired to deal with the complaints since July.

The harassment complaints rocked the August special legislative session to deal with redistricting that ended last week.

State Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, who informed many of his House colleagues about the harassment complaints in a speech on the House floor, said Monday that Arnold should resign from the legislature.

Costner praised her boss, House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro. “Every time that I went to him about a problem that I had … he was always very helpful in making sure Rep. Arnold stayed away from me,” she said.

Costner also praised state Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, for introducing a resolution that passed the House last week asking a legislative committee to study salaries, minority hiring, overtime and other issues affecting General Assembly and LRC employees.

“I’m so proud of her and other legislators who are stepping forward to … make some positive changes in LRC,” she said.

Westrom said the resolution was not prompted by the sexual harassment allegations.

“I just want to be sure people are being treated fairly,” Westrom said. “I’ve had concerns over the years that people were afraid of complaining for fear of losing their jobs.”

To move forward, either the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee or a 16-member panel of legislative leaders must vote to authorize the study.

“I believe it stands a great chance of being a study topic … it’s something that needs to be looked into,” said State Rep. Fitz Steele, D-Hazard, who is co-chairman of the Program Review and Investigations Committee.

The Legislative Research Commission employs approximately 350 people in full-time and part-time positions.

Filed Under: KY General Assembly

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