UPDATE: Former Ky. House Speaker Jeff Hoover calls whistleblower lawsuit 'false' and 'defamatory'
A whistleblower lawsuit filed Monday morning claims to shed new light on a secret sexual harassment settlement made by Jeff Hoover.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A lawsuit, filed in Franklin Circuit Court Monday morning, claims that former Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover had sex with a female staffer, then used GOP donor funds in an attempt to cover it up in a "secret" sexual harassment settlement.
But late Monday afternoon, Hoover's attorneys had issued a written statement on his behalf, denying the allegations in the strongest possible terms and calling them "untrue," "false" and "defamatory."
Hoover resigned as House Speaker last month. At that time, he admitting to sending inappropriate text messages to a staffer, but claimed he never engaged in "unwelcome or unwanted conduct." He also claimed he never had sexual relations with the woman in question.
But allegations made in the newly filed lawsuit dispute that. The whistleblower lawsuit was filed on behalf of Daisy Olivo, the communications director for the Kentucky House Republican Leadership, against the Legislative Research Commission. Olivo claims her job duties were effectively eliminated -- and she was repeatedly ostracized and harassed at work -- because she confronted Hoover and his Chief of Staff about the inappropriate relationship Hoover was involved in.
According to the lawsuit, the series of events began in January 2016, when Olivo became the communications director. In the the months that followed, the suit alleges that Olivo became aware that Hoover was in a "consensual, but inappropriate" relationship with one of the employees she was supervising.
In Feb. 2016, the suit claims that Ginger Wills, Hoover's Chief of Staff, called Olivo and another employee into her office and told them that she believed that the female staffer had been the "aggressor" in the relationship, and had forced Hoover into a "submissive" relationship that was damaging his ability to do his job. Wills also said that she planned to "create a path to terminate" the woman. When Olivo objected, Wills said that the staffer "would need to be relieved of her duties and that a personnel case should be built against her for her behavior," the suit claims.
The female staffer was scheduled to begin four months of military leave, beginning May 22. According to the lawsuit, Olivo was told to "keep [THE STAFFER] happy" until she went on that leave, because Wills intended to fire her just before or shortly after that leave took place.
As they continued to work together, the female staffer began to share details of her sexual encounters with Hoover, according to the lawsuit. Shortly before she returned from her military leave, she called Olivo and told her that she did not think she could return to work because she viewed it as an "environment of sexual harassment created by Speaker Hoover."
Eventually, Olivo confronted Hoover himself about the issue. According to the lawsuit, a 90-minute conversation took place on Sept. 5 between Olivo and Hoover about the inappropriate relationship, "as well as the hostile work environment" for the female staffer created by Wills, "and the overall toxic environment" under the leadership of Hoover and Wills.
The female staffer returned to work on Oct. 16 and showed Olivo three years of text messages she'd exchanged with Hoover, as well as a timeline of sexual encounters she'd had with Hoover, "both during work hours, and outside of work hours," the suit claims. She then allegedly told Olivo she'd accused Hoover of sexual harassment and was demanding a civil settlement.
Not long after that, the female staffer told Olivo that there had been "a secret settlement to avoid media scrutiny," and that it had been paid "off the public record with private funds pooled from prominent campaign donors."
According to the lawsuit, the female staffer later came into Olivo's office and told her that she had been "instructed by attorneys to deliver a message" that she was to stop discussing the inappropriate relationship or any allegations of harassment stemming from it. She also told Olivo that she'd heard Hoover and Wills state that Olivo would lose her job.
At that point Olivo, worried for the female staffer's emotional well being, contacted the Legislative Research Council and he Human Resource Director. According to the lawsuit, Olivo was concerned that the female staffer entered into the secret settlement "under duress." She also went missing from work for several days, causing Olivo to fear for her safety.
On Oct. 27, the lawsuit says Wills told Olivo to direct any employees with sexual harassment concerns to her. Olivo responded by holding a three-hour meeting with the Legislative Research Council General Counsel and HR Director in which she disclosed information about the inappropriate relationship and said that it was inappropriate for employees to be required to report harassment claims to Wills, since she herself had claims against her.
The day after that meeting, Wills allegedly sent an e-mail to Olivo, telling her to direct all media inquiries to another employee. According to the lawsuit, this e-mail "effectively eliminated" the duties Olivo performed as communications director.
Since this time, Olivo has been "ostracized from her job duties and subject to retaliatory actions," the suit claims. The suit goes on to say that other legislators have been trying to "intimidate" her and her staff, including Representative Bam Carney, who "was attempting to surreptitiously take a photo of" Olivo and a co-worker.
On Nov. 17, Olivo met with House Budget Director Frank Willey to discuss pending legislation and complain about the lack of information given to her communications staff. According to the lawsuit, Willey told her he would not be sharing information with her in the future because of her intention to "twist facts" and "pit people against one another." He added that she was "just like the Governor in always twisting the truth, and referenced the Governor's comments on teachers hoarding sick days, and alluding that this type of behavior was the cause of Rep. Hoover losing his speakership," according to the lawsuit. He also told her he wouldn't work with her in the future in order to "avoid exposing himself to the same type of damage."
As a result of this alleged treatment, the lawsuit accuses the Legislative Research Commission of two counts of violating the Kentucky Whistleblower Act. Olivo's attorneys are asking for a jury trial, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
But on Monday afternoon Hoover had issued a statement through his attorneys at Landrum & Shouse LLP Law Offices.
The statement, in its entirety, read as follows:
"The allegations set forth in the whistleblower lawsuit filed today are absolutely not true. I have never engaged in sexual contact of any kind with any staff member during my 21 years in Frankfort. Never.
I will no longer sit back and let untrue, false, defamatory statements be made against me and others, regardless of the position of the person making them. During the course of the recent investigation by the law firm Middleton Reutlinger, 40 people were interviewed. The only staff person who refused to cooperate has now filed suit making untrue, false statements. This is no coincidence. Also, the law firm report issued last week confirmed that no settlement funds came directly or indirectly from political donors or lobbyists.
Over the past few months, I have spoken out when unfair statements were made against teachers, state workers and others during the pension discussions. Why are some calling for the immediate resignation of myself and other legislators based on mere accusations and without knowledge or examination of the facts?
I welcome the investigation by the Legislative Ethics Commission. I look forward to certain persons having to answer questions under oath. I am confident I and the others mentioned will be vindicated."
The statement is signed by Leslie P. Vose, of Landrum & Shouse LLP Law Offices.
A copy of the lawsuit can be viewed below:
A copy of the statement attributed to Hoover but issued by his attorneys is below:
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