The lawsuits filed by three female Legislative Research Commission employees who say they were victims of sexual harassment and retaliation may not be the only actions taken in the wake of the scandal that has entangled the Capitol, an attorney said Tuesday.
One lawsuit involves accusations of sexual harassment against former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis. Yolanda Costner, an advisor to House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson, and Cassaundra Cooper, an aide to House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, claim Arnold touched them inappropriately and continued to harass them by loitering near their legislative offices during the 2013 session, when they went to LRC administrators with their complaints.
“They (LRC officials) did not take effective and timely corrective action to address their (Costner’s and Cooper’s) concerns,” said Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who represents Costner and Cooper.
“They actually dragged it out, and we believe that Mr. Arnold had a history of prior sexual misconduct in his legislative capacity, which went unanswered. We believe there were complaints that were filed regarding his conduct.”
Costner and Cooper allege sexual harassment and assault against Arnold.
They also named LRC, House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s office and the state as defendants, accusing them of violating the Kentucky Wages and Hours Act for failing to pay overtime for working more than 40 hours in a workweek. Costner and Cooper say they were not paid 1.5 times their standard rate of pay for working more than 40 hours per week.
The other lawsuit was filed by Nicole Cusic, a legislative secretary, who is also represented by Clay. Cusic claims she was transferred to work in the Senate after she approached Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, about “sexually harassing behavior toward interns and LRC employees” in February 2012.
LRC and former LRC Director Robert Sherman, who stepped down Sept. 20 and is under a Kentucky State Police investigation for shredding documents after his resignation, are also listed as defendants in Cusic’s lawsuit.
Both suits seek unspecified damages.
Others who work in LRC may yet come forward with similar complaints of sexual harassment. Clay said he has fielded “a flood of calls” from current and former legislative employees who have expressed a number of concerns involving “a wide range of legislators.”
“Now, whether that rises to the level of a lawsuit, it depends on whether these people want to pursue a claim in court or not,” Clay said. “Many of them are intimidated. They’re concerned for their job status because they fear retaliation.”
Arnold defended his innocence in a Sept. 13 resignation letter. Costner and Cooper have filed complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission against Arnold, as has legislative secretary Gloria Morgan, who also has accused the former legislator of sexual harassment.
Attorney Steve Downey of Bowling Green, who represents Arnold, declined to comment on the lawsuit because he had not seen it.
Coursey also has denied the allegations against him. His attorney, Mark Edwards of Paducah, said he likely would file a counterclaim or a separate lawsuit against Cusic, alleging defamation and abuse of process.
He will challenge the statute of limitations on Cusic’s suit since her allegations date back to 2012, he said. Edwards also raised questions about damages sought by Cusic since she was not terminated or demoted.
Edwards said he has talked with several people regarding Coursey’s conduct at the Capitol, “and nobody has complained about anything.”
“We also find it interesting that they decided to break it up into two lawsuits, and the reason that’s interesting is there appears, from what I hear, to be some merit in the other complaint,” Edwards said.
“If it were me, I wouldn’t want a lousy case to drag down a good one.”
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, declined to comment in a statement. Robert Jenkins, acting administrator for LRC, also declined to comment. Sherman did not return a call on his cell phone seeking comment.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Senate does not “condone anything alleged to have happened in these lawsuits.
“We are committed to providing LRC staff with a safe working environment,” he said in a statement. “We will wait for the civil process to take its course.”
Costner and Cooper said they have suffered stress-related health issues since filing complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission in August. They said most House Democratic leaders received an anonymous letter last week claiming they had been taking too much time off recently.
“It’s hard to come to work everyday,” Costner said. “… Some (co-workers) are very supportive, but I guess on the leadership staff it is kind of hard for them because we all work directly with our leaders every day, and it’s been very difficult.”