PHOENIX (CN) – A former state representative expelled from the Arizona Legislature in February following sexual harassment claims is now facing a slander lawsuit brought by his accuser.
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, sued Don Shooter and his wife on June 14 in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Shooter, a Republican from Yuma, was expelled from the Arizona House of Representatives in February after an investigation run by independent counsel for the legislative body found he had sexually harassed Ugenti-Rita.
In October 2017, Ugenti-Rita published to Facebook an account of the harassment she said she faced from Shooter.
The following month, Shooter apologized for his actions, saying he “apparently said things that were insensitive and not taken well.”
Ugenti-Rita says Shooter changed his tune after accounts of the harassment began to circulate in the news, instead claiming that Ugenti-Rita was a liar, made false statements about him because she was motivated by “dark money,” and that she had harassed a female staffer.
The lawsuit details the harassment Ugenti-Rita said she faced while working with Shooter.
Shooter would routinely comment on Ugenti-Rita’s appearance or clothing, she says, making her uncomfortable and causing her to avoid meetings when she knew Shooter would be present.
“Almost immediately after the legislative session began in 2011, defendant Donald Shooter began making inappropriate sexually suggestive comments to plaintiff,” the lawsuit said. “Such comments included but were in no way limited to statements such as ‘Mmm, that’s a good looking skirt’ or ‘Michelle, you’re making it hard to concentrate.'”
During a meeting in 2011, Shooter allegedly commented that he wished he “was that baby” when Ugenti-Rita told attendees that she had to leave early to feed her newborn.
At another meeting that year, the complaint says Shooter told Ugenti-Rita that he was “infatuated” with her and wanted to have a personal relationship. He also advised her that he “was a powerful Senator” and would help push through legislation if she gave him “time and attention.”
Ugenti-Rita says that even though she avoided attending meetings with Shooter or answering his phone calls, he would still seek her out.
At a conference in New Orleans, Shooter allegedly knocked on Ugenti-Rita’s hotel room door with a six-pack of beer.
According to news reports, he left her a bottle of tequila in December 2011 along with a card referencing the Kenny Chesney song “You and Tequila.”
Shooter’s actions did not stop in 2011, Ugenti-Rita says.
In April 2012, she says he commented to her about “whether or not (her breasts) were real.”
And, in December 2016 during a reception, Shooter “pulled on a tie that held plaintiff’s wrap dress in place, causing it to come undone, and potentially exposing her to public embarrassment,” the lawsuit said. “This violation of plaintiff was an offensive touching and battery, and was humiliating and embarrassing.”
Daniel Massey, an attorney for Ugenti-Rita, said in a statement that Ugenti-Rita wants to encourage women to “stand up and fight back” against harassment.
“Any woman, no matter what their position or how successful they are in our society, is potentially susceptible to being subjected to the outrageous behavior that we have described,” Massey said in an email to Courthouse News.
“It takes courage to expose sexual harassment,” Massey wrote. “But to then be subjected to humiliating public defamation by the harasser cannot be tolerated.”
Shooter could not be reached for comment.
His expulsion from the House of Representatives has not stopped Shooter from seeking office again. Shooter is running for a State Senate seat in Yuma.
Ugenti-Rita seeks general, special and punitive damages for slander, libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery.