FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) – A nine-term Kentucky state representative sexually harassed staffers for years, then resigned last month after they filed ethics charges against him, two women claim in court.
State Rep. John Arnold resigned in September, claiming he had been “destroyed politically” by the allegations.
Arnold, a Democrat, told the Louisville Courier-Journal: “I do not believe that I am guilty of sexual harassment,” but that his “health has deteriorated to the point that I can no longer effectively represent my constituents. And I do not have the strength or the ability to participate in adversarial proceedings against me.”
But Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper claim in Franklin County Court that Arnold groped and abused them for years.
Costner claims that, among other things, Arnold grabbed her butt in public, saying: “I just could not resist grabbing those fancy red lace panties.”
The women claim Arnold’s depredations were known, but ignored, by the co-defendants Legislative Research Commission, Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, and the state itself.
Costner and Cooper, both staff workers for the Kentucky House, claim that since 2010 Arnold’s behavior was “unwelcome, offensive, and sexually discriminatory.” Costner is a part-time executive adviser for House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson, and Cooper a part-time communications assistant and office manager for Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins.
Costner claims that Arnold as she walked from the Capital Building to the Capital Annex Building in March 2010 Arnold “inappropriately groped [her] buttock, grabbing her underwear and almost causing her to fall backwards down the stairs.”
She says another state representative had to grab her arm to stop her from falling.
That’s when Arnold told her, “I just could not resist grabbing those fancy red lace panties,” Costner says in the lawsuit.
She claims she told her then-boss, Rep. John Will Stacy, about the groping and he told her that “Arnold was harmless and laughed off the incident.”
In January this year, Costner claims, she asked Arnold to stop smoking cigarettes in the office where she worked, where smoking is prohibited.
He responded: “Don’t start that shit with me!” When he lit up in the office the next day, “he yelled at Yolanda, ‘Keep your damn mouth shut about my smoking and mind your own damn business!” according to the complaint.
After another state representative told Arnold to stop smoking in the House Majority Whip’s office, Costner says, Arnold told her: “You asshole! You need to quit tattling on me and mind your own damn business!”
Cooper claims that in February this year, Arnold “walked up behind her and smacked her on the buttock” in her office.
Cooper says she was “embarrassed, ashamed, and completely offended by Arnold’s actions,” which she reported to her boss, Rep. Rocky Adkins, and to Communications Director Susan Klanchek.
Adkins notified House Speaker Greg Stumbo and former Legislative Research Commission Director Bobby Sherman of her complaint.
Both women claim that Sherman told them that “their complaints were found to be true” and “that this was not the first time Arnold had been investigated for sexual harassment.”
But both women say the defendants “failed to take any appropriate corrective actions” against Arnold and his improper behavior was allowed to continue.
They seek damages for sexual harassment, assault and battery, breach of contract and violations of the Kentucky Wages and Hours Act.
They are represented by Thomas Clay, with Clay Daniel Walton & Adams, in Louisville.
A third woman filed a separate complaint on the same day against the Legislative Research Commission, its Director Bobby Sherman, and state Rep. Will Coursey.
Nicole Cusic, an LRC staff member, claims she was moved to a different office against her will in retaliation for complaining that Coursey was “engaging in sexually harassing behavior toward interns” and employees.
Coursey, a Democrat, responded by telling the Lexington Herald-Leader that Cusic’s complaint of being shunned, humiliated, degraded, alienated and constantly uncomfortable are the result of her own actions in describing, in detail, her sexual exploits in front of other LRC workers, representatives, senators and visitors.”
Attorney Clay, who represents all three women, responded by telling the Herald-Leader: “”Basically, what Mr. Coursey has chosen to do is start throwing dirt. And I can tell you this, if Mr. Coursey wants to start a dirt-throwing contest, he’s gonna end up pretty dirty himself.”
Cusic seeks damages for retaliation and whistleblower violations.