Woman in sexual harassment case fights demand to repay money

FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2018, Kentucky's Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover resigns from his leadership position during a speech at the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. A woman is asking a Kentucky judge to dismiss a lawsuit demanding she give back the $110,000 paid by three current and former GOP lawmakers in a secret sexual harassment settlement. The dismissal motion was filed Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Fayette Circuit Court in Lexington. It says the lawsuit claiming the woman violated a confidentiality agreement is “meritless.” The settlement toppled Hoover. (AP Photo/Michael Reaves, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. - A woman who received $110,000 in a secret sexual harassment settlement with three current and former Kentucky GOP lawmakers wants a judge to dismiss a lawsuit demanding that she give it back.

The lawsuit claims the woman violated a confidentiality agreement. Her dismissal motion, filed Tuesday in Fayette Circuit Court in Lexington, says the lawsuit is "meritless" and "inherently inconsistent." It also said there's "substantial legal support for the proposition" that the non-disclosure provision is void because it restricts the woman's free-speech rights and the public's right to information about elected officials' misconduct.

The settlement toppled Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover. It came amid the #metoo movement that exposed the behaviour of powerful men in business, government, entertainment and media — with many losing their jobs.

The lawsuit seeking the money back, plus interest, was filed by Hoover, who remains a House member, along with state Rep. Michael Meredith and former state Rep. Jim DeCesare. Their attorney, Leslie Vose, did not immediately return a phone call and email Tuesday seeking comment on the dismissal motion.

The suit claims the woman told two co-workers about the settlement, violating the agreement. Both workers — House GOP Communications Director Daisy Olivo and House Clerk Brad Metcalf — have since been fired, and both have filed whistleblower lawsuits alleging they were punished for reporting the harassment.

The Associated Press does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted or harassed unless they have chosen to publicly identify themselves.

The woman's attorney, Gail Langendorf, said in the dismissal motion that the lawsuit was intended to "punish, harass and financially ruin" her client.

Langendorf has said her client did not violate the agreement because the settlement is, or should have been, public record, subject to the state's open records law. The settlement was not publicly available until the Legislative Ethics Commission held a hearing about it in 2018.

"Therefore, even if all the allegations in the complaint are true, any provision of the agreement which would prohibit the disclosure of the existence or terms of the settlement is void because it contravenes public policy," the dismissal motion said.

The motion says Hoover is also bound by the agreement's non-disclosure provision but has held press conferences and made media statements regarding the matter. Hoover has denied sexually harassing the woman. He said he sent her inappropriate but consensual text messages.

The woman's motion also says that despite Hoover's "public mischaracterization" of her allegations, she has not spoken publicly. The motion also says if the contract is rescinded, the woman would be free to pursue claims of sexual harassment and retaliation.

Hoover and the other lawmakers paid the woman with their own money to keep the settlement out of court and out of the news.

The settlement was revealed by the Courier Journal.

Hoover subsequently resigned as state House speaker. DeCesare did not run for re-election in 2018, but Hoover was re-elected to the House without opposition. And after Meredith easily defeated a Democratic opponent, the House GOP leadership team restored him as a committee chairman.

A hearing on the dismissal motion is scheduled for April 19.


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