State reps seek transparency for taxpayers in sexual harassment settlements

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The governor's office reports the commonwealth paid nearly $1 million dollars to settle a sexual harassment case, back in march of 2016.

A former employee of the state Department of Revenue, filed a lawsuit in 2014 against her supervisor, who allegedly fondled her and touched her inappropriately at work.

The complaints alleged in this case took place from 2011 to 2013, during the Corbett administration.

FOX 43 News spoke with a couple of Pennsylvania state representatives to not only out where the money comes from to settle these lawsuits, but why payouts in cases like this aren't brought to light for taxpayers.

The lawsuit alleges that a former employee with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue endured sexual harassment in the workplace for two years. She took her case to court and settled for nearly $1 million.

In a state with a history of having trouble balancing a budget, some may wonder where does the money come from.

"It's taxpayer dollars, that go into all these accounts that get paid out. Within state government I assume, and I hope for the state agencies, it's in their general government operating funds. That is the fund that hires, pays the salaries, the pensions, the benefits, all that stuff for state employees," Grove said.

The settlement is dated March 2016, The agreement was reached nearly two years ago, but it wasn't until the Associated Press broke the story Monday, that the $900,000 payment was made public.

"Everybody has to be more accountable with taxpayer dollars, the General Assembly, the Judiciary, the executive branch, everybody needs to build more transparency, and let people know, where their money is going," Grove said.

It's why state representative Leanne Krueger-Braneky proposes to change that with what she calls her "#MeToo" bill.

Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D-Delaware County) said "it prohibits us from using taxpayer dollars to pay secret settlements for members of the legislature who harass. This problem has been going on for decades, but it's time to stop."

The bill, to be known as House Bill 1965, proposes to make the reporting process clearer and easier for cases involving members of the state legislature.

"One of the things the new office of compliance would do is actually generate a report, that tells us how many incidents of harassment, how many reports have happened, how many settlements have there been. I think all of us have a right to know that information," Krueger-Braneky said.

Governor Tom Wolf's press secretary J.J. Abbott said "Governor Wolf's expectation is that victims are supported in an environment in which individuals feel safe to alert decision-makers about harassment, complaints are heard and investigated, and proper action is taken to protect victims and hold people accountable."

The Governor's office noted the majority of the payout in this case came from unused funds from the Department of Revenue, but Rep. Grove suggested another way to pay.

"If you hold the individual personally responsible, to not use the sovereignty of government. I think you'll stop this from happening a lot faster if your money is on the line, and not the taxpayers money on the line," Grove said.

The state had a self-insurance plan to pay for most settlements.

The governor's press secretary said the plaintiff in this case initially asked for $5 million, but the Attorney General's office settled the case for $900,000.