FRANKFORT — New state House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, fired a female staffer in the office Wednesday who alleged she had been sexually assaulted by a former state lawmaker from Western Kentucky.
Louisville attorney Thomas Clay said Yolanda Costner received a letter earlier in the day from Bell that said her service was no longer required.
No other reason was given for the termination that is to take effect Thursday, Clay said.
Clay said Costner, who has 25 years of government service, will amend a complaint filed in Franklin Circuit Court on the sexual harassment scandal that will include Bell as a defendant.
He claimed Bell violated the state law to protect whistleblowers and Costner's civil rights.
Bell did not return a phone call seeking a comment. He said when he ousted former House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, from leadership earlier this month in a House Democratic caucus meeting, that he would consider whether to retain Costner in the office.
Bell and other House Democratic leaders have said it is customary for any leader to choose his own staff.
"I figure they will say that again," said Clay, who noted that House Speaker Greg Stumbo signed off on the termination letter. "To me, this is further evidence of retaliation against Yolanda."
Stumbo said after the House Democratic caucus that the speaker traditionally approves any staff hire a leader requests.
State Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, wrote in a Jan. 1 letter to his Democratic colleagues that he recently received a "shocking email" from one of the women who have alleged they were sexually harassed by former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis.
The email detailed "how a legislator running for a House leadership position was telling other legislators of his intent to 'clean house,' including terminating her employment if elected," Riner wrote in his letter. Clay identified the candidate as Bell.
Bell, an attorney who has been in the House since 2007, said at the time that he had given no thought to staffing if he should win the leadership race. Bell strongly denied a claim by Clay that Bell was angling to replace Costner in the majority whip's office with one woman in particular.
Riner, a Baptist minister, initially informed House members about allegations of sexual harassment in the chamber during a 2013 floor speech.
Later that year, Costner and legislative staffer Cassaundra Cooper filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court accusing Arnold of sexual harassment. Arnold has denied wrongdoing in the case, which is pending in court.
Clay also said Wednesday that he has agreed to a Legislative Research Commission request to appoint an impartial mediator in the sexual harassment case. A judge will approve that soon, he said.