Women who allege sexual harassment say legislative staff needs more protections

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comSeptember 8, 2013 

Two women who filed sexual harassment complaints against a Western Kentucky lawmaker say more needs to be done to protect legislative staff from sexual harassment.

"We need a new director and we need a real sexual harassment policy," said Cassaundra Cooper. "It shouldn't take six months to a year to get it solved."

Cooper and Yolanda Costner filed Legislative Ethics Commission complaints against Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, in August alleging repeated sexual harassment. Arnold is accused of touching the two women inappropriately. Arnold has not spoken publicly about the complaints.

Gloria Morgan, another LRC employee, later filed a third sexual harassment claim against Arnold. Morgan also filed a complaint against the LRC for failing to investigate her report of sexual harassment against Arnold.

Cooper and Costner participated Sunday in the Imani Baptist Church's Prayer Walk for the Community — a 3.4 mile walk from the church's Georgetown Road location to the Rally's at the intersection of Georgetown Road and Newtown Pike and back to the church.

The Rev. Willis Polk, pastor of Imani Baptist, said he started the walks to bring attention to violence in Lexington. Sunday was the fifth of seven walks planned. Polk said Sunday that he would like to see the walks turn into action to stop violence, particularly among Lexington youth.

Costner, a member of Imani Baptist, has participated in all of the church's previous walks. During those walks down Georgetown Road, she often thought of the violence she experienced in her work place. She invited Cooper to attend Sunday's walk with her.

"I think we just want to raise awareness," Cooper said before Sunday's walk. "I think a lot of people think it can't happen to me. It happens in some one else's town. Or another workplace. But it can."

Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, and Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, also participated in Sunday's walk with Cooper and Costner. It was Riner who encouraged the two women to file an ethics complaint after they became frustrated with the LRC staff's investigation into their complaints.

Stein said Sunday that the LRC needs to adopt clear sexual harassment policies and beef up its sexual harassment training.

Cooper and Costner said that for several years, LRC employees were given sexual harassment training in a class-like setting with an outside trainer. But when LRC staff began to ask questions — using real-life examples of questionable behavior by LRC staff — the sexual harassment training was changed to an online video. That's not enough, Stein said.

The legislature has passed a resolution requiring elected leaders to receive sexual harassment training. Currently, state legislators receive no such training.

Costner and Cooper also said Sunday that they were disappointed that House Democratic leaders did not stay in a four-hour closed door executive session on Wednesday to hear details of the LRC's investigation of their complaints against Arnold.

"They needed to have the same information as every one else," Costner said. Costner and Cooper said they have never received a formal written report about the LRC's investigation.

House Democratic leaders said last week that the information about the investigation should have been released during the open meeting portion of the full LRC meeting. They did not attend the closed-door meeting in protest, they said.

Beth Musgrave (859)231-3205. Twitter@HLCityhall

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