Calls for change mount after harassment allegations against Pa. lawmakers

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, says he wishes he could divulge specifics of the claims that resulted in the House Democrats paying out $500,000 in the last decade to settle staff disputes.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, says he wishes he could divulge specifics of the claims that resulted in the House Democrats paying out $500,000 in the last decade to settle staff disputes. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

On the heels of recent Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stories on alleged sexual harassment by state lawmakers, a number of officials are calling for a change.

The latest story concerns 40-year veteran lawmaker state Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks.

The House Democratic caucus paid about $250,000 in public money to settle a harassment complaint a staffer made against him. A nondisclosure agreement kept the whole thing under wraps.

A few weeks before that was reported, state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware, said a different news story made her realize the settlements were happening and being kept secret.

She introduced a bill to stop the practice.

“I was angry,” she said. “I do not think that we should have nondisclosure agreements that mask the names of people in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that are found to have harassed staff. Period.”

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, as are several other harassment-related bills in both chambers.

Caltagirone has maintained his innocence amid calls from Gov. Tom Wolf and others to step down.

“I wanted my day in court but counsel implored the parties to settle because of the high cost of litigating any complaint, legitimate or not,” he said in a statement.

All told, in the last decade House Democrats spent more than half a million dollars to settle staff disputes.

In a statement, House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said he wishes he could divulge more of the specifics of the claims, but he can’t legally.

“The House Right to Know officer is in the process of reviewing more than 30 different Right to Know law requests for a variety of different documents,” he said. “The caucus’s responsive documents will be released to those requesters in due course. It is also important to note that some of these matters involve former employees who are now private citizens, and we need to be mindful of their privacy rights as well.”

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale — himself a former House Democrat — has offered to audit legislative accounts for other such payments.

Senate Democrats are also grappling with harassment charges; progressive Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, has been accused of repeated inappropriate behavior with women.

According to a memo sent to members and staff, the caucus has since amended its sexual harassment policy to, among other things, route complaints through its chief clerk’s office, and not through elected officials.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.