Louisiana Auditor: $5M Spent On Sexual Harassment Lawsuits
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana has spent more than $5 million on lawsuits involving sexual harassment claims since 2009, the state's legislative auditor said in a new report released Tuesday on the eve of debate on bills targeting sexual misconduct in government.
Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office conducted a review of sexual harassment policies in executive branch agencies and procedures for handling accusations.
The audit says the state's self-insurance agency, the Office of Risk Management, paid the money for "closed claims" involving 84 sexual harassment lawsuits. That includes payments to people who filed claims as well as lawyers' costs.
Of the $5.2 million paid, the review says $1.1 million was tied to sexual harassment lawsuits involving the Department of Corrections. The audit did not provide details about the conduct alleged or who was accused of harassment at any of the departments.
Beyond the lawsuits, Purpera's office said executive branch agencies reported 311 internal complaints involving sexual harassment from 2013 through 2017. The attorney general's office told auditors that it doesn't track such complaints, and LSU only provided limited information.
Auditors also warned harassment could be under-reported, however, since employees who responded to an auditor's office survey and said they had experienced harassment overwhelmingly said they didn't report it.
The audit noted that Louisiana doesn't have a uniform sexual harassment policy governing its agencies, and only four of the 18 agency policies reviewed by auditors meet the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's "minimum criteria for what should be included."
"Two agencies' policies specifically allow the department head to create exceptions to the sexual harassment policy on a case by case basis," auditors wrote.
In addition, offices don't have "consistent processes for examining the background of prospective employees," the review says.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, requested the review from Purpera's office. Lawmakers are considering proposals to enact anti-harassment training and policies across government agencies. A Senate committee is scheduled to debate the bills Wednesday.
Since accusations across the nation spurred by the #MeToo movement unseated people in positions of power, several high-profile Louisiana officials have been accused of sexual harassment.
Most recently, Louisiana agreed to pay $85,000 to settle claims that former Gov. John Bel Edwards aide Johnny Anderson sexually harassed a woman when they worked together in the governor's office. Anderson left his position but denies wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit is pending against Secretary of State Tom Schedler, accusing him of harassing a woman who worked in his office and punishing her when she rebuffed advances. Schedler's spokeswoman said Schedler had a consensual sexual relationship with the woman, a claim the woman's lawyer denied.