A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: How many more canaries are in the mine when it comes to sexual harassment?

A little more than a year ago, it became public that then-Speaker of the Kentucky House, Jeff Hoover, had secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a twenty-something female legislative aide. While Hoover denied the charge, he did admit to sending inappropriate text messages, insisting they were “consensual,” according to an Associated Press report by Adam Beam.

The secret agreement was signed by Hoover and three other House members — Brian Linder, Dry Ridge; Jim DeCesare, Rockfield; and Michael Meredith, Brownsville — who were also alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment claims by the young woman.

When news of the secret agreement surfaced last year, Hoover stepped down from his position as Speaker of the House. Linder and DeCesare didn’t run for re-election, but both Hoover and Meredith were re-elected to their seats in the House.

When the scandal was in full swing, Governor Bevin called for the resignations of anyone who secretly settled sexual harassment claims, calling the allegations “reprehensible, indefensible and unacceptable.”

Legislators, apparently, did not whole-heartedly embrace the governor’s recommendation. In fact, it was ignored.

Once Hoover was replaced as Speaker by David Osborne, the accused lawmakers were removed from their committee chairmanships, but that’s about it. Just recently, Speaker Osborne restored Rep. Meredith to his position chairing the House Local Government Committee.

Since then, two of the young woman’s former supervisors filed whistleblower suits, because they were fired after reporting the alleged harassment.

Last week, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting released a detailed account of sexual assault allegations from the young woman, tagged “Jane Doe” in the legal papers. Expressed in her own words, her testimony explains a pattern of disturbing behavior by Rep. Hoover and the three other lawmakers who were part of the secret settlement.

Despite the smarmy details, the legislature has been slow to advance any reforms to its ethics rules, which currently don’t explicitly ban sexual harassment.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, legislatures should have an “effective preventive program” that “should include an explicit policy against sexual harassment that is clearly and regularly communicated to employees and effectively implemented.”

Why it has taken the Kentucky legislature so long to figure this out is puzzling. The obvious questions to ask are, “How many more cases like this have gone unreported? How many victims have been silenced through secret agreements? How many others have lost jobs or been demoted because they spoke up against sexual predators at work?

How many “canaries” have to pile up before meaningful action is taken?

The good news is that Rep. Kelly Flood has filed legislation to ban sexual harassment in the statehouse and establish a process to handle complaints. As a result, the Legislative Ethics Commission would have the power to investigate alleged harassment among legislators, lobbyists, and legislative employees.

In addition, the proposed legislation would provide for a tip line, set up a 30-day complaint process, and require the Legislative Research Commission to release an annual report on harassment complaints.

“HB83 sets a path toward a safer workplace for all Capitol employees,” Rep Flood told LEX18. “It’s vital to get this right, right now. The public and state employees deserve to know that we legislators have their best interests at heart, and in the law.”

Additional information from the deposition is posted at kycir.org.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment