Two women who filed formal ethics complaints against Kentucky state Rep. John A. Arnold Jr. have also filed complaints with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. The complaints allege both Arnold and the women’s employer, the Legislative Research Commission, discriminated against them on the basis of race and gender.
Longtime statehouse staffers Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper filed their complaints with the Commission on Human Rights on Aug. 16, the same week they filed complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission accusing Arnold of sexual assault and harassment, according to documents obtained by WFPL and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Both women are currently employed by the Legislative Research Commission, a non-partisan agency that provides legislators with support and staff. Both say LRC staff didn’t do enough to address the allegations of harassment and assault they made against Arnold.
Costner and Cooper, who are African-American, told WFPL that prior to reporting the allegations, they were made to feel uncomfortable by LRC staff due to their race.
Costner recalled an LRC co-worker telling that “black people have a lazy gene.” They say this atmosphere made them reluctant to discuss the sexual harassment allegations.
They further say they filed complaints with the CHR because it has stronger enforcement powers than the Legislative Ethics Commission. According to the CHR’s website, if the commission determines that discrimination has happened, the parties responsible can be ordered to cease and desist from further discrimination against the complainants as well as to provide complainants a remedy for past discrimination. Such a remedy can include “a monetary award, policy change, employment reinstatement or an accommodation in housing.”
Final orders from the Human Rights Commission carry the authority of a court of law, and the commission may ask a circuit court to enforce its decision. By law, Arnold and the LRC have the right to appeal the decision within 30 days of the order if found guilty.
In yet another statement released through a spokesman since WFPL first reported the sexual harassment allegations last week, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, attempted to provide clarity on his role in the developing scandal. The statement said Stumbo authorized the hiring of a third-party mediator to works with the LRC and “move the investigation process forward by ‘working directly with the parties concerned.’”
According to Costner’s complaint, she and Cooper met with the mediator, attorney Cheryl Lewis, on July 9.
“It is the Speaker’s understanding that this process was successful,” the statement said. “And in fact that the parties were satisfied with the efforts of the counselor as recently as the week before the Special Session.”
But Cooper and Costner said they were far from satisfied by the process and with Lewis, whom they say has not provided them with a written report of her findings in a preliminary investigation of their claims against Arnold.
“How can we be satisfied with the mediator when we don’t know what the findings are?” Cooper said. “We felt like we didn’t have a choice when we were told that leadership wanted us to meet with her.”
The women also said that the LRC and Costner’s attorney, Thomas Clay, had attempted to work out a deal with Arnold before last week’s five-day special session that would bar Arnold from making any contact with them.
The women said that LRC personnel director Roy Collins told them that Arnold did not sign this agreement.
Collins and Lewis could not be reached Monday for comment.
On Monday, state Rep. Tom Riner, a Louisville Democrat, called on Arnold to resign.