FRANKFORT—The two female statehouse employees who previously accused Kentucky Rep. John Arnold of sexually harassing them say another Democratic lawmaker acted inappropriately, this time on an out-of-state trip conducting official legislative business.
Legislative Research Commission employees Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner allege that Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, threw a pair of women’s panties onto a dining table at a restaurant during the Southern Legislative Conference held in Mobile, Ala., last year.
In an interview with Kentucky Public Radio, Gooch didn’t deny the allegations, and admitted to possibly brandishing a woman’s “personal item” in front of LRC employees during a meal.
“There was an incidence where some lady who I did not know, I did not solicit it, she was obviously very drunk, who slipped an item, a personal item, in my pocket,” Gooch told Kentucky Public Radio. “And I was kind of taken back by it, and I actually told some other people there … ‘You’re not going to believe what happened.’ And, you know, I may have showed them that personal item, but it was more or less, ‘I can’t believe this happened.'”
Costner and Cooper say they were not the only female LRC staffers present, but they declined to name the others. Gooch says no one was offended at the dinner; on the contrary, “Everyone kind of laughed,” he said, adding that the incident shouldn’t be taken in the same context as the day’s discussion on the House floor regarding sexual harassment in Frankfort.
Costner and Cooper have filed a civil suit in Franklin Circuit Court against former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, on the grounds that he sexually assaulted and harassed them. The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission cleared Arnold of the charges last week.
The panel’s decision spurred Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville, to file an amendment Monday on an unrelated Senate Bill that would update and refine the ethics commission’s duties to account for the verdict that allowed Arnold to escape ethics charges.
The bill passed 98-0, with only two members—Reps. Keith Hall and Gooch—marked as absent. Both Hall and Gooch ultimately voted for the amended bill, which passed the House unanimously.
Costner and Cooper told KPR they decided to speak up on Monday after Gooch made a floor speech against a resolution filed by Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, which would have honored the two, along with fellow LRC employee Gloria Morgan, for their courage in “reporting sexual harassment despite attempts of others to diminish the significance of their reports or to otherwise keep their reports from being heard.”
“I did raise a legitimate question today about whether or not the legislature should be voting on and weighing in on a case that’s before the courts,” Gooch said.
After initially finding Riner’s resolution out of order, House Speaker Greg Stumbo cleared its passage after receiving clarification from the ethics commission.
Cooper also alleges that Gooch made sexual innuendoes toward her over a period of time several years ago; specifically, she recalls an incident in which he informed Cooper’s co-workers that he enjoyed eating from a dish of jellybeans Cooper kept on her desk.
“He made a point to tell them, some of my co-workers, ‘Be sure to tell Cassaundra ’I’ve tasted her flavors,'” Cooper said.
Gooch denies that incident ever took place.
Riner says he had heard of the allegations, but has not spoken about it.
“If it is true, it’s just a further confirmation that we really have a long way to go in becoming more sensitive to what we do that basically puts other people down,” Riner said. “There’s a coarseness about all that, and a disregard for other people’s feelings.”