Former House Speaker Jeff Hoover and two other Republican lawmakers have dropped their lawsuit against a former staffer who accused them of sexual harassment.
Hoover, Rep. Michael Meredith and former Rep. Jim DeCesare sued Marissa Espinosa, a former communications staffer for the Republican House Caucus, for allegedly disclosing details of a secret settlement dealing with the harassment allegations.
The lawmakers paid Espinosa $110,000 to avoid a lawsuit, and all parties signed a nondisclosure agreement.
In a 2018 deposition, Espinosa testified under subpoena that Hoover had repeatedly groped her without her consent and that she was verbally harassed by three other lawmakers while she worked for Republicans in the state House of Representatives between 2015 and 2017.
Leslie Vose, an attorney for the lawmakers, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gail Langendorf, Espinosa’s lawyer, had argued that the non-disclosure portion of the settlement between the lawmakers and Espinosa was unenforceable because allegations of misconduct against public officials are a matter of public concern.
The lawmakers dropped the lawsuit before a judge weighed in on the case.
“Marissa has accepted the legislators offer to dismiss the lawsuit, which means the court will not make a ruling as to whether the non-disclosure agreement is against public policy, but Marissa wants to move on with her life,” Langendorf said in a statement.
The lawsuit alleged that, “within minutes of reaching a settlement and executing the settlement agreement,” Espinosa shared details with her supervisor, Daisy Olivo.
News of Hoover and the lawmakers’ alleged inappropriate behavior first surfaced in 2017, when the Courier Journal reported that they had signed a secret out-of-court settlement over undisclosed allegations.
Hoover resigned as speaker of the House in January 2018 and the lawmakers were removed from leadership positions, though they resisted calls from Gov. Matt Bevin to step down from the legislature. Two of the accused lawmakers — Brian Linder and Jim DeCesare — did not run for reelection. Linder was part of the settlement with Espinosa, but not involved in the lawsuit.
Hoover admitted to exchanging “inappropriate text messages” with Espinosa, but denied any further misconduct. The Legislative Ethics Commission fined Hoover $1,000 and issued a public reprimand.
Then in January of this year, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that Espinosa had made more serious accusations against Hoover in a demand letter—alleging that he had frequently groped and touched her without her consent.
Hoover is still in the legislature, representing the 83rd House District. He ran unopposed during last year’s election. Rep. Michael Meredith, whom Espinosa accused of making explicit comments, is the chair of the House Local Government Committee.
Espinosa is still a witness in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by her former supervisors, Daisy Olivo and Brad Metcalf.