Politics & Government

Staffer says she took concerns about ‘toxic’ environment to Hoover, then was ‘shut out’

Will Jeff Hoover resign as Speaker of the House? 'Absolutely not'

Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said Friday, Nov. 2, 2017, that he has no plans to resign his leadership position as he deals with the political fallout from reportedly settling a sexual harassment claim made against him by a staf
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Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said Friday, Nov. 2, 2017, that he has no plans to resign his leadership position as he deals with the political fallout from reportedly settling a sexual harassment claim made against him by a staf

A staff member for the House Republican Caucus said she was “basically put on paid suspension” for reporting a “toxic” workplace culture that included sexual harassment in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Daisy Olivo, the communications director for the House Republican caucus, said after she approached House Speaker Jeff Hoover on Sept. 5 about an employee who was concerned about returning to work because of a hostile work environment, she was shut out of conversations.

“Since I reported this to Jeff Hoover I have become effectively isolated,” Olivo said. “We have been shut out of everything.”

That isolation culminated Thursday in Olivo being relieved from her duty of communicating with the press, the primary responsibility of a communications director. The day before, Olivo met with the general counsel and human resources director of the Legislative Research Commission to voice her concerns.

Olivo said she was contacted by the FBI on Saturday about the case.

The sexual harassment scandal has rocked the capitol in recent days, with Gov. Matt Bevin calling for the resignation of any member of the House of Representatives who settled a sexual harassment case Saturday afternoon.

“These alleged actions, which haven’t been denied, are reprehensible, indefensible and unacceptable,” Bevin said. “Any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual harassment claim should resign immediately. The people of Kentucky deserve better. We appropriately demand a high level of integrity from our leaders, and will tolerate nothing less in our state.”

Meanwhile, the House Republican caucus has ordered an investigation into sexual harassment in the House of Representatives. Leaders said Saturday afternoon, before Bevin’s statement, that “as of now,” Hoover still had the support of the caucus. “However, that support does not supersede the need for a full, independent investigation,” the caucus said in a statement.

The allegations in Kentucky’s Capitol come amidst an avalanche of sexual harassment complaints throughout the country, ranging from Oscar-winning actors to news industry officials.

But Olivo brought the issue up with Hoover on Sept. 5 because of what she called the extreme emotional duress of an employee. She said verbal and physical harassment from male members of the General Assembly contributed to the emotional duress of the employee, but she did not mention the harassment in the meeting with Hoover.

“My hand was forced,” Olivo said. “I had to act because of the condition and well-being of” the employee.

She said she asked Hoover to put an end to the cultural issues that existed, largely centered around the “toxic” work environment of that employee.

When confronted with the information, Hoover told Olivo that he would take it under consideration, according to Olivo.

“He did nothing,” she said.

Olivo said she then approached House Republican Caucus chief of staff Ginger Wills and House Republican general counsel Laura Hendrix about the same issue two weeks later.

“They denied that a cultural issue existed,” Olivo said.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit was brewing. Olivo said she was made aware that a staffer was bringing sexual harassment complaints against Hoover; Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge; Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland; and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, as well as a complaint against Wills for creating a hostile work environment.

None of those four responded to Herald-Leader requests for comment on Saturday, and Hoover has said several times that he cannot comment on the case.

Olivo said she has since been told that the case was settled by everyone involved. She has not seen the settlement.

The staffer who made the allegations of sexual harassment has not been publicly identified and has not made a public statement.

On Wednesday, Olivo said she officially reported everything she was aware of to the LRC. The next day, after a newspaper report came out in Courier Journal saying Hoover settled a sexual harassment complaint, reporters were told that all media inquiries were to go through House Republican policy director Tommy Druen.

Druen did not respond to the Herald-Leader’s request for comment on Olivo’s allegations Saturday.

Gov. Matt Bevin addressed sexual harassment claims regarding members of the state House. "The people of Kentucky deserve better than the type of shenanigans that have gone on for far too long in this town."

House MajorIty Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, told reporters on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, that House Speaker Jeff Hoover has the ‘full support’ of the House GOP caucus after a report surfaced that Hoover settled a sexual harassment complaint last

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics

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