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Kentucky Lawmakers Seek Return Of Sexual Harassment Payment

AP Photo/Adam Beam

After paying a woman $110,000 in a secret sexual harassment settlement, three current and former Republican lawmakers in Kentucky are now demanding she give the money back — plus interest — for violating a confidentiality agreement.

Jeff Hoover, Michael Meredith and Jim DeCesare were among four Republican state House members who signed a secret sexual harassment settlement in 2017 with a woman who once worked for the House GOP caucus. The lawmakers paid her with their own money to keep the settlement out of court. The agreement banned everyone from discussing details, instructing them when asked about it to respond: "'I have no comment' with no elaboration, or insinuation."

But two other state employees — House GOP Communications Director Daisy Olivo and House Clerk Brad Metcalf — knew about the settlement. Both have since been fired, and both have filed whistleblower lawsuits alleging they were punished for reporting the harassment. Hoover, Meredith and DeCesare filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging those employees knew about the lawsuit because the woman told them, which violated the terms of the agreement.

The lawmakers' attorney, Leslie Vose, wrote they "have sustained damage to their reputations, in continuing legal fees and costs, mental anguish, paid monies under a fraudulently induced settlement, and have not received any of the confidentiality that they were promised."

"We have filed this lawsuit because my clients entered into an agreement with (the woman) in good faith, (the woman) breached that agreement and ignored her legal obligation, and we think she should be held accountable," Vose said in an email to The Associated Press.

The Associated Press is not naming the woman who made the allegations, at her request. Her attorney, Gail Langendorf, said she did not violate the agreement because the settlement is, or should have been, public record. The settlement was not publicly available until the Legislative Ethics Commission held a hearing about it in April 2018.

"This is nothing more than continued harassment of my client by the people she was sexually harassed by. It's ridiculous," Langendorf said.

The settlement agreement was revealed by the Courier Journal during the height of the #metoo movement, when powerful men in entertainment, business, government and media lost their jobs for sexually harassing behavior toward women. Hoover, who was the Kentucky House speaker at the time, resigned his leadership position. Republican leaders stripped the other lawmakers of their leadership positions.

Since then, DeCesare did not run for re-election and is out of the legislature. Meredith was re-elected in November, and the new Republican House leadership team restored him to his position as chairman of the Local Government Committee. Hoover was re-elected in November without opposition.

Hoover is the only lawmaker to speak publicly about the settlement. He has denied sexually harassing the woman. He said he sent her inappropriate but consensual text messages. Those messages were revealed as part of an investigation by the Legislative Ethics Commission. In one exchange, the woman asked Hoover to come over one night. But Hoover declined, saying he couldn't because he was her boss. He asked her to send a photo of herself in a "black lace g string" instead.

"Shortly after my client declined her inappropriate invitation, the texting between them ceased," Vose said.

Hoover has repeatedly said his actions were not unwelcome. But in a deposition as part of the two whistleblower lawsuits, the woman said Hoover made more than 50 unwanted sexual advances toward her, including groping her in hallways and elevators at the state Capitol and touching her between her legs under the table at gatherings. The woman described those encounters as not consensual, and said she felt pressured because Hoover was her boss.

The deposition has been sealed, but the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Kentucky Public Radio obtained a copy of it and published its details earlier this month.

The lawsuit filed Thursday does not accuse the woman of leaking the deposition to the media. But it does accuse her attorney of giving a copy of the woman's original demand letter to lawyers in the whistleblower case and filing copies of it with the court "without that letter having been subpoenaed."

In an interview, Langendorf said she is trying to prevent the lawmakers' attorneys from questioning her client as part of those lawsuits and filed the letter with the court as evidence.

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