INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – Indiana’s top law enforcement official faces a federal lawsuit from three female statehouse staffers and one lawmaker who accuse him of inappropriate comments and touching at a staff party last year.
Legislative assistants Niki DaSilva and Samantha Lozano, communications director Gabrielle McLemore and Democratic State Representative Mara Reardon are all employed by the state and work in or close to the Indiana General Assembly.
They sued Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, a 58-year-old Republican, in Indianapolis federal court on Tuesday, claiming he retaliated against them and defamed them when they reported his alleged misconduct.
Represented by Katz Korin attorney Kimberly Jeselskis, the women seek compensatory and punitive damages for claims of sexual harassment, retaliation, sexual battery and defamation, among other counts.
They want a federal judge to order Hill to apologize to them and retract statements he made accusing the women of lying about the allegations. The attorney general publicly stated last year that “accusations alone have the power of conviction” and that his reputation had been “dragged through the gutter.”
DaSilva, Lozano, and McLemore filed gender discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicating their right to sue but the commission declined to act on the claims.
The four women’s federal lawsuit stems from a March 15, 2018, party at an Indianapolis bar called AJ’s Lounge, where they had been celebrating the end of a legislative session. A state ethics investigation had found that the allegations were credible but a crime could not be proven.
The women say in the lawsuit that Hill’s presence at the party was unexpected because celebrations were meant to be confined to legislators, staffers and lobbyists. DaSilva claims Hill approached her when she was with three other women at the bar and told them, “Ah, come on ladies! You haven’t figured out how to get a drink yet? You’ve got to show a little skin!”
DaSilva and Reardon say that Hill groped their buttocks. DaSilva “made it clear to Hill that his unlawful acts were not consensual and were unwelcome,” the 39-page filing states, and Reardon allegedly told Hill to “back off.”
Lozano meanwhile says that Hill told her she was “really hot” grabbed her by the waist and pulled her close to him. The lawsuit also states that Hill rubbed his hand up and down McLemore’s back.
The women say that after they went to the statehouse leadership to complain, staff attorneys interviewed six women but not Hill.
A July 2018 memo outlining the allegations was leaked to the media. Hill claimed he did not attend the party and denied the allegations, and then used his office “to threaten, intimidate, and defame the plaintiffs,” according to the complaint.
The women also claim that Indiana Senator Jean Leising, a Republican, was overheard saying that the women “got what they deserved” because of how they had dressed. Reardon says she also overhead Republican Senator Blake Doriot say, “What are we supposed to do when these women wear a black bra under a white blouse, not look?”
The women say they have cut down the number of work-related events that they attend because of fear of inappropriate or negative comments.
“By not attending such events, the plaintiffs have been unable to make connections, develop relationships, and network within the political community, all of which are necessary to advance their careers,” the lawsuit states.
The attorney general’s office said in a statement that it would “vigorously” defend against the complaint.
“The lawsuit is related to allegations that have now been reviewed four times. The investigations all concluded without any recommendations for further action,” Hill’s office said.
The plaintiffs’ attorney did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.