Kentucky Agencies Plagued by Harassment Claims in Trio of Suits

FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) – A former Kentucky House of Representative clerk claims he was fired after pressing leaders for details about a secret sexual harassment settlement involving the House speaker, while two other state workers say they lost their jobs for complaining about harassment by a Labor Cabinet appointee.

The former Kentucky House clerk Brad Metcalf sued the Legislative Research Commission, a 16-member nonpartisan arm of the Kentucky General Assembly, on Thursday in Franklin County Circuit Court.

Metcalf, represented by attorney Shane Sidebottom of Ziegler & Schneider, alleges that he met last October with the woman who has made harassment claims against former House Speaker Jeff Hoover and other Republican state lawmakers.

She showed the then-chief clerk text messages with Hoover, “many of an explicit nature,” and a written timeline of “inappropriate encounters,” according to his lawsuit.

Metcalf’s lawsuit echoes claims made by Daisy Olivo, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Republican House leadership. She alleged in a complaint filed last December that she was ousted after Hoover’s accuser came to her and explained that she had signed the secret settlement agreement under duress.

Hoover was one of four lawmakers that the woman, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, has accused. Representatives Jim DeCesare, Michael Meredith and Brian Linder were also named in the settlement, according to a report from the Louisville-based Courier-Journal.

Olivo supervised the woman, who reportedly told Olivo that details of the settlement were kept from the public and the media and that the settlement was paid with private funds accepted from campaign donors.

On Oct. 26, 2017, Doe also told Metcalf in his office that she was pressured to enter into a settlement and warned: “Things aren’t going to end well for any of us,” according to Metcalf’s lawsuit.

Metcalf says he pressed legislative leaders to see a copy of the settlement agreement but his requests were repeatedly ignored. He claims he was fired on Jan. 1 and stripped of his ID badge after he told Legislative Research Commission ethics investigators and the Lexington FBI branch about what he had witnessed. He was escorted out by a security officer, the complaint states.

Metcalf alleges he received a Twitter message on Oct. 10 from the account of U.S Representative James Comer, R-Ky., that foreshadowed his firing. It reportedly used vulgar and derogatory language.

“Hey Brad, when the House finally fires your dumbass (which will be very soon) for being a lazy dumb shit, David Williams can help you find a job cleaning shit stains off the commodes at the Corner Pool Room in Burkesville. But I’m sure you won’t last long there because everyone hates you and you are dumb and lazy,” the direct message obtained by political news site The Hill reportedly states.

Williams is a circuit court judge and has served as president of the Kentucky Senate.

Also on Thursday, two former Kentucky Labor Cabinet employees – Christina Columber and Michael Donta – each filed lawsuits in Franklin County claiming they were fired for reporting Winston Bennett’s allegedly harassing behavior after he took over as director of the cabinet’s division of apprenticeship last summer. They are represented by Thomas Clay of the Louisville firm Clay Daniel.

“Almost immediately upon starting his tenure with the department, Bennett began commenting in the workplace about the appearance of the women working under his supervision, including comments about their hair, referencing how attractive they looked, and how good they smelled,” Columber’s complaint states.

Donta alleges he immediately expressed his misgivings about the appointment after discovering Bennett had described himself as a “sex addict” and after he did an internet search about the former professional basketball player.

“Not our problem, not our call,” Ervin Dimeny, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Workplace Standards, allegedly told Donta after he raised the issue.

Columber says that within two weeks, Bennett pressured her to pray during a team meeting. At another meeting, Bennett allegedly placed his hand on her shoulder and “surprisingly kissed” her without permission when she turned around.

She also claims she observed Bennett telling another woman that he “just needed to hug her” and that Bennett then “clung to her for an extended period of time.”

“Bennett repeatedly sent flirtatious emails and text messages to the plaintiff, commenting on her appearance and how attracted Bennett was to her,” Columber’s lawsuit states.

Bennett was fired last October, according to the complaint, after only 10 weeks on the job. Though the department apologized, Columba says she was abruptly fired in January. Donta says he was fired in December.

The Kentucky Labor Cabinet and the Legislative Research Commission did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment on the trio of lawsuits.

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