Herald-Leader Editorial

House's non-investigation another reason to be disgusted by harassment allegations

December 18, 2013 

We know the Kentucky House of Representatives is dominated by men, 82, to 18 women, but do none of those men have daughters?

Last week, when Mary Barra was named the next CEO of General Motors, becoming the first woman to ever head a major automobile manufacturer, there was talk about the "daddy factor" that can help women advance. When white male decision makers see a woman in line to move up, they might think of the daughters they've raised and educated and want them to have opportunities.

You'd think the same would apply when there are allegations that women have been mistreated in the workplace. The men would want to get to the bottom of it because one day their own daughters could face the same problems if they persist.

But not in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Last week, a House committee apparently formed to do nothing closed out its business by doing just that. It was ostensibly created to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment against former Rep. John Arnold, who resigned in September after the those charges became public. But on a party-line vote of three to two, the Democratic majority decided that since Arnold was no longer in office, it had no power to discipline him and so should close up shop, ceding any investigation to the courts, where Arnold has been sued, and the Legislative Ethics Commission, which is looking into the matter.

On the face of it, that's offensive. Arnold is gone, but this is about much more than just him. The message comes across very clearly that the Democrats who control the House just don't really want to know any more about what happened, how common or acceptable it is and how House Democratic leaders responded, or didn't.

The allegations in the lawsuit filed by the two women, both black and so not exactly like the daughters of most of the House members, are not about inappropriate jokes or insensitive office banter. The charges against Arnold, all reportedly witnessed by other legislators or staffers, are much more serious:

■ As one of the women was walking up steps, Arnold reached up from behind, "groped Yolanda's buttock, grabbing her underwear and almost causing her to fall backwards down the stairs." When challenged, Arnold replied, "I just could not resist grabbing those fancy red lace panties."

■ On another occasion, as one of the women bent over to pick up something in the office, Arnold came up from behind and "smacked her on the buttock."

■ The women reported these and other incidents to legislative leadership and executives at the Legislative Research Commission, their employer, and some meetings took place in which Arnold was admonished for his behavior. After that, he walked up to one of them in an office and "attempted to hug her, trying to apologize for his previous offensive behavior."

■ Although Arnold was told to leave the women alone, he continued to hang around them. A day after being told, again, to leave them alone, they returned to their office suite to find Arnold sleeping on a couch there.

This is really creepy, disgusting stuff.

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, was in the minority on the committee who wanted to do something. An attorney, he disagreed with the opinion that the committee had no legal authority to continue.

"In my experience, ... you don't investigate when you don't want to know the facts," he said. "Don't we have a desire to know what happened and why?"

Apparently not.

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