Gov. Matt Bevin’s vociferous condemnation of sexual harassment apparently excludes some state employees. The prison system still employs a supervisor despite a $1.6 million judgment and extensive testimony that he was allowed to sexually prey on female co-workers for several years.
The state, which botched the investigations of the women’s complaints and then attempted to discredit their claims in court, is now appealing the decision by an Carter County jury to award four victims a total of $1.6 million.
The jury heard testimony from the four women and corroborating witnesses about how Sgt. Stephen Harper attempted to rape a female guard, masturbated in front of one of them, touched co-workers’ breasts and buttocks, exposed himself to them, rubbed against them and tried to force them to touch him.
Harper did not testify at the civil trial in March. He had already entered into a confidential settlement with the women, which Bevin has said should require his resignation. “Any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual harassment claim should resign immediately,” the governor said during a rare Saturday news conference on Nov. 4, as he demanded the resignations of four lawmakers who settled sexual harassment claims.
While voters can force legislators out of office, Bevin and his administration have the power to terminate state employees, which raises an obvious question:
▪ Why is Harper still on the Little Sandy Correctional Complex payroll? The women’s lawyers heard he may even have been promoted.
▪ Also, what steps has the Kentucky Department of Corrections taken to prevent another such travesty? Why did the complaints, filed separately and at different times, never receive proper consideration at the prison or up the chain in Frankfort?
At the trial, the prison official who handled the complaints said she was never trained in how to respond to workplace sexual harassment. Plus, she worked with Harper’s wife, an administrator at the prison. His father also works there. After one of the complaints, Harper was assigned to central control, requiring the women to interact with him daily.
Details of the lawmakers’ settlement are still secret. We do know their settlement did not come at taxpayers’ expense, unlike at Little Sandy where taxpayers are footing the bill for the abuse and mismanagement. Circuit Judge Rebecca K. Phillips ordered the Department of Corrections to pay the victims’ lawyers $256,769 in fees and costs.
Rep. Jeff Hoover, who resigned as House speaker after Bevin’s denunciation, has said that he engaged in salacious text messaging with a legislative employee.
“Disgusting” and “repulsive” are how Bevin has described the lawmakers’ behavior. Those words certainly describe what women guards at Little Sandy endured.
Only one of the four women who filed suit still works there. The warden, who was a defendant in their lawsuit, has retired.
Bevin also has said, “You either publicly condemn or you publicly condone this type of behavior.”
Under the governor’s logic, the state is publicly condoning the sexual abuse and harassment of women who work in state prisons, which is one of several reasons that Harper should be fired.