Investigations Politics

State Rep. Jeff Hoover and two other Republican lawmakers are suing a former staffer for allegedly violating a confidentiality agreement regarding her allegations of sexual harassment.

Hoover, Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland and former Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green filed the suit in Fayette Circuit Court on Wednesday, saying that the woman violated the confidentiality agreement shortly after they reached a $110,000 settlement with her, signed on Oct 25, 2017.

The suit alleges that “within minutes of reaching a settlement and executing the settlement agreement,” the then-staffer met her supervisor, Daisy Olivo, and disclosed the settlement.

It also claims that the day after the settlement was signed, she told then-House Clerk Brad Metcalf about the agreement in a conversation Metcalf recorded.

Both Olivo and Metcalf were later fired from their positions and have filed whistleblower lawsuits against the state, saying they were retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment in the legislature.

Earlier this month, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Kentucky Public Radio obtained a copy of a deposition the former staffer gave in those lawsuits. In the deposition, she alleged that Hoover sexually assaulted her by touching her without her consent.

The new lawsuit filed by the lawmakers states that the lawmakers categorically denied any of their conduct was ”unwelcome or harassing” towards the former staffer.

“However, given the newsworthy nature of allegations of alleged misconduct against then legislators, Plaintiffs agreed to meet and mediate this dispute,” the lawsuit states.

According to the final settlement agreement, the $110,000 paid to settle her claims of “harassment, assault/battery” and “retaliation” included three lawmakers as well as former Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge and former chief of staff to the House Republican caucus Ginger Wills.

The existence of the settlement was first revealed by the Louisville Courier Journal days after it was signed, leading Hoover to step down from his position as speaker, but keep his seat as a state representative.

Hoover admitted to exchanging sexually-charged text messages with the woman but has repeatedly denied sexually harassing her.

But in sealed testimony given in the whistleblower lawsuits last October, the former staffer alleged that Hoover repeatedly groped her without her consent over her employment between 2015 and 2017, behavior which she said rose to sexual assault.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, Hoover and the other lawmakers say they have sustained “damage to their reputations” as a result of the alleged breach in confidentiality.

The lawmakers are seeking to recover the $110,000 paid in the settlement, compensatory damages, consequential damages, attorney’s fees, and costs.

Gail Langendorf, an attorney representing the former staffer, called the lawsuit “ridiculous,” and said it’s “further harassment against my client.”

Langendorf said that the former staffer never disclosed the contents of the settlement to either Olivo or Metcalf.

“The representation of the communication that she had with Olivo on the side of the road is patently false,” Langendorf said.

And of the Metcalf meeting, Langendorf said her client acknowledged that there was a settlement but said that she couldn’t talk about the terms.

“The fact that she’s acknowledged that a settlement occurred is not a violation because that can’t be confidential information under Kentucky law,” Langendorf said.

In the deposition the former staffer gave under oath last fall, she said she ran into Olivo in Midway shortly after she signed the settlement, but that Olivo already knew about the agreement.

“She proceeded to tell me that she had heard that we settled. I told her I couldn’t talk about it. She told me that she heard there were individuals who had a copy of the demand letter and it was getting circulated,” the woman said in the deposition.

According to her testimony, the woman said that during the meeting in Midway, Olivo told her copies of demand letter were being passed around Frankfort.

“She also told me that members of the legislature were being contacted, getting asked by lobbyists what was going on, and if Jeff Hoover still had the support of the caucus, stuff like that,” the woman said.

The next day, the former staffer says she told Olivo that she was upset about the settlement and that she “feared physical harm,” saying that the other party threatened her during mediation.

“They told me that — they threatened me if I didn’t — if I didn’t settle, that they would make sure any dirt that they had on me would be released,” the woman said.

Later that same day, the woman said Metcalf asked her how the mediation went and that she told him she couldn’t talk about it.

“We had a conversation there,” she said. “But other than that, that was it.”

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.