The Kentucky Labor Cabinet has filed suit against the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting to prevent releasing details about employees accused of sexual harassment — the second state agency to sue KyCIR in the last month.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Franklin Circuit Court. In the suit, Labor Cabinet general counsel Michael Swansburg asked a judge to reverse the attorney general’s opinion that found the cabinet violated the Kentucky Open Records Act when it refused to release names of employees who were accused of sexual harassment, but an investigation didn’t substantiate the claim.
Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey said in an interview with WKMS on April 6 that he agrees the public has a right to know about sexual harassment investigations, but that KyCIR requested information about people who were merely accused.
“Why would we turn that over to further embarrass someone that was accused of something, not found guilty of it?” Ramsey asked.
In late March, the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet also sued KyCIR to prevent the release of its own unredacted documents relating to sexual harassment complaints. That case is pending.
“The public should be able to fully understand how state agencies are investigating cases of sexual harassment — to ensure we’re protecting victims and holding officials accountable,” said Stephen George, interim president of Louisville Public Media. “This is the second time in the past month that the state of Kentucky has sued us for trying to access records that the public has a right to see.”
Courier Journal reported last month that the two former employees sued the Labor Cabinet, claiming they were fired for reporting sexual harassment by a former employee.
Kentucky state law requires an agency seeking to appeal an attorney general’s decision to file suit against whomever requested the records. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting is part of Louisville Public Media.
In November, KyCIR requested documents from every Kentucky cabinet outlining all complaints made by state employees related to sexual harassment, and information about any related internal investigations, settlements or disciplinary action.
Most cabinets complied, although as outlined in the investigation, the amount of information officials released varied from agency to agency.
The Labor Cabinet argued in the lawsuit that it doesn’t need to turn over names of employees against whom allegations were not substantiated because the Attorney General’s office itself did not. In its own response to KyCIR’s request, the AG’s office redacted the name of an employee who was accused of sexual harassment. Records custodian Taylor Payne said in early March that he stood by that decision.
The Labor Cabinet alleged that the attorney general’s office was applying a different standard to executive branch agencies than itself, “and raises substantial questions about the OAG’s ability to render impartial decisions concerning the application of the Open Records Act.”