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Texas Lawmaker Used Taxpayer Money to Settle Harassment Case

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle hostile workplace claims brought by his former spokeswoman, who said in a 2014 lawsuit that the Texas Republican copped to having sexual fantasies about her, Politico reported Friday.

(CN) - U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle hostile workplace claims brought by his former spokeswoman, who said in a 2014 lawsuit that the Texas Republican copped to having sexual fantasies about her, Politico reported Friday.

Farenthold, 55, is a four-term congressman who represents a district that includes his hometown of Corpus Christi. He has a law degree and hosted a conservative talk radio show before leaving it to focus on his first congressional election campaign in 2010.

The settlement payment to Farenthold's former spokeswoman, Lauren Greene, came from an account managed by the Office of Compliance, which handles in-house sexual harassment and other workplace dispute claims made by congressional staffers.

Farenthold's office is the first in the U.S. House of Representatives in the past five years to use an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment complaint, according to Politico.

Politico reported that House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss, told Republican lawmakers about the settlement Friday morning in a closed-door meeting.

Farenthold responded quickly to the report Friday, but declined to verify it.

"While I 100 percent support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question," he said in a statement.

Greene sued Farenthold's congressional office in December 2014 in Washington, D.C. federal court after she was fired as his communications director that summer.

She said in the lawsuit that she began working as Farenthold's media director in February 2013. A year later, Farenthold allegedly told Greene that he was estranged from his wife and hadn't had sex with her in years.

Greene claimed she began to worry if she could do her job in early 2014 because Farenthold was ignoring her and acting awkward around her, and she shared those concerns with Farenthold's then-executive assistant, Emily Wilkes.

"In response, Wilkes informed plaintiff that Farenthold had admitted to being attracted to plaintiff and to having 'sexual fantasies' and 'wet dreams' about plaintiff," the complaint states.

Greene said after Farenthold promoted her to his communications director, the congressman's chief of staff, Bob Haueter, began to bully her, and Hauter once said during a meeting he was going to send Greene home to change her shirt because he could see her nipples through it.

Greene alleged in the lawsuit that Farenthold did not share his chief of staff's concerns with her attire.

He told Wilkes that Greene "could show her nipples whenever she wanted to" and Wilkes passed the comment on to Greene, according to the complaint.

Neither Wilkes nor Haueter are defendants in the lawsuit, which the parties agreed to dismiss in November 2015.

Greene claimed Farenthold often made comments to her that signaled his interest in a sexual relationship.

"Farenthold would compliment plaintiff’s appearance, or comment on her wardrobe, and then joke that he hoped his compliments did not constitute sexual harassment," the lawsuit states.

A court-appointed mediator worked out the $84,000 settlement and a joint statement prepared by Farenthold and Greene at the time they reached the deal, which they never released, said, "The parties believe that the mediator’s solution saves the parties, and the taxpayers, significant sums that would be expended in further discovery and/or trial," according to Politico.

Politico said it got a copy of the statement from Greene's attorney, Leslie Alderman, a partner in the Washington firm Alderman, Devorsetz & Hora.

The statement reportedly included a confidentiality agreement precluding Greene and Farenthold from talking about the case, and said the settlement "expressly provides that both parties deny all liability.”

Greene made hostile workplace, sex discrimination and retaliation claims in the lawsuit.

Though the actions attributed to Farenthold in the lawsuit could be considered sexual harassment, Greene did not include sexual harassment as a legal cause of action.

Farenthold joins a growing list of congressman caught up in sexual harassment allegations that are roiling Capitol Hill and spurring calls for reforms.

The Senate approved a resolution on Nov. 9 with a goal of implementing mandatory anti-harassment training for all Senate employees and interns.

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