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Indiana General Assembly not liable for sexual misconduct of former attorney general

Former Indiana Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill lost the nomination of his party in 2020 after an investigation found he groped four women at a holiday party.

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) — A federal judge found that the Indiana General Assembly did not retaliate against three women who came forward and accused the state’s former attorney general of sexual misconduct. 

U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson issued her 54-page ruling on Thursday, finding that the Indiana General Assembly did not create a hostile work environment against three women who came forward and accused former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill of inappropriately touching them at a holiday party.

Magnus-Stinson found that while Hill’s actions were improper, they did not rise to the level of employment discrimination and that the Indiana House and Senate did not act improperly after the women brought forth the allegations.

“Because Attorney General Hill's misconduct does not rise to the level that the Seventh Circuit has determined is actionable under Title VII, and because no reasonable jury could conclude that the House and the Senate failed to take reasonable action in response to that misconduct or that Plaintiffs faced actionable retaliation for reporting that misconduct, there is no basis on which to hold the House or the Senate liable,” wrote Magnus-Stinson.

The events date back to March of 2018, at a gathering in celebration of the end of the legislative session known as the “Sine Die” party. It is at this event that Hill had inappropriate contact with Niki DaSilva, Samantha Lozano and Gabrielle McLemore Brock who were all working as legislative staffers at the time.

According to a state-issued report on the incident, Hill approached Lozano at the party and commented on her appearance before putting his hand around her waist and pulling her close to him.

The same report found that Hill grabbed DaSilva and touched her butt during the party and that he touched and rubbed up and down Brock’s back without permission.

No longer a party to this lawsuit is former Indiana State Representative Mara Reardon who also claimed that Hill squeezed her butt while at the party and then later approached and touched her again.

The findings and report were found credible by the Indiana Supreme Court who suspended Hill’s law license for 30 days following the allegations. Hill would later lose the Republican nomination for attorney general to current Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita in 2020.

However, Hill is no longer a party to the lawsuit after a 2020 ruling by Magnus-Stinson where she found Hill had not violated any state or federal laws. In that same ruling, Magnus-Stinson found that the state of Indiana was also not liable, and the claims had to be brought against the specific government entities that employed the women.

This sentiment was echoed by a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit, who sided with the lower court finding that the women could not sue the state over Hill’s actions.

This left the plaintiffs only able to pursue claims against their direct employers, with Lozano asserting claims against the Indiana House of Representatives, and DaSilva and Brock asserting claims against the Indiana Senate.

In their lawsuit, the women allege that after the incident came to light they were subjected to a hostile work environment and suffered retaliation at the hands of their employers in the Indiana General Assembly. 

Lozano claims that after the events at the party, she felt Hill was trying to intimidate her by standing close to her at a different event in 2019. She also alleges that co-workers were antagonistic towards her and blamed her for the lack of subsequent Sine Die events.

DaSilva and Brock both claim that state senators had made comments that the women had “got what they deserved” because of how they were dressed at the Sine Die event.

However, in her ruling, Magnus-Stinson found that the alleged conduct after the events did not rise to actionable retaliation. 

“The Court has no doubt that Plaintiffs felt uncomfortable at work as their identities as Attorney General Hill's accusers emerged. But the treatment they faced after reporting Attorney General Hill's misconduct — which must be viewed separately as to each Plaintiff, and not collectively — simply does not rise to the level of hostile for purposes of a claim of retaliation,” Magnus-Stinson wrote.

Magnus-Stinson also wrote that the three women continued successful employment after the incident and that they had all voluntarily left for better opportunities. 

In addition, the judge found that the claims did not show that either chamber of the General Assembly was lacking in their response to the allegations. 

“And while Plaintiffs argue that Defendants did not take action to stop Attorney General Hill from publicly defending himself and calling his accusers liars, it is unclear what Defendants could have done other than to reiterate their support for Plaintiffs and continue their investigation — which they did,” wrote Magnus-Stinson. "It is also unclear what more Defendants could have done to prevent Attorney General Hill from attending legislative events other than telling him not to attend — which they did. Attorney General Hill was not Defendants' employee, and his actions were not otherwise within Defendants' control."

In her conclusion, Magnus-Stinson stressed that despite her finding in favor of the General Assembly, the court’s ruling does not downplay Hill’s actions.

“The Court's decision should in no way be read to condone the reprehensible behavior of Attorney General Hill — behavior that no woman should have to face, especially at the hands of one of the state's highest elected officials,” Magnus-Stinson wrote.

Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Law

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