Louisiana lawmakers trying to make sexual harassers pay

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — An effort aimed at making Louisiana officials pay a share of their sexual harassment settlements, rather than relying entirely on taxpayer dollars, got closer to final legislative passage Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, of Slidell, said if a person commits sexual misconduct, the state should try “to recoup some of those dollars from the guilty party.” Her bill would provide a legal framework for recovering money if a sexual harassment claim is deemed valid.

Under the proposal, if Louisiana’s self-insurance office or a public college determines misconduct occurred, they would have to require the person accused of that harassment to pay all or part of any settlement or legal judgment reached in the case.

To determine the amount the person should reimburse, the self-insurance office or college would consider whether the harassment happened while the person was performing work duties, the severity of the conduct and a person’s ability to pay.

If a lawsuit results in a judgment against the state, the attorney general’s office would be able to sue the person accused of sexual misconduct to seek reimbursement of the money, along with attorney fees.

Hewitt’s legislation also requires that information about sexual harassment settlements involving elected officials and public employees be available to the public, with an exception for the victim’s name. Nondisclosure agreements as part of such a settlement would be prohibited.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced the measure to the House floor Wednesday without objection. The Senate has unanimously supported the legislation.

A legislative audit in April 2018 showed Louisiana has spent more than $5 million on lawsuits involving sexual harassment claims since 2009. That includes payments to people who filed claims as well as lawyers’ costs.

After that audit was released, the tally grew even higher with settlements involving two high-profile state officials.

The state spent $184,000 last year to respond to a sexual harassment lawsuit against former Secretary of State Tom Schedler. Nearly $35,000 was paid to attorneys representing the state, along with $149,000 to settle the case without going to trial. As part of the settlement, Schedler also personally paid $18,425 to his former employee.

In addition, Louisiana spent nearly $108,000 in 2018 to respond to claims that Johnny Anderson, a former top aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards, sexually harassed a woman when they worked together in the governor’s office.

Both Schedler and Anderson resigned their positions, but denied the allegations.

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Senate Bill 182

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte
 

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