Lawmaker sex harassment claims go to mediation

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The longstanding, high-profile lawsuits of legislative staff members accusing state representatives of sexual harassment, retaliation and other misconduct are headed to mediation. Attorneys for three women and the Legislative Research Commission, a defendant in the cases, said Tuesday that all parties have agreed to mediation that they hope will finally resolve the cases. "We're optimistic it's going to succeed and we're looking forward to getting together with all of the parties to resolve our differences," said Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who represents the legislative staffers in the cases.

Leslie Vose, a Lexington attorney representing the LRC in the cases, said, "It's very encouraging that all of the parties are willing to sit down and talk about this matter with the help of a very good mediator."

Clay and Vose said the closed mediation session has been scheduled for May 26 and that Lexington attorney Steve Barker has been appointed as mediator.

The mediation will address two cases, both brought in October of 2013.

One is the case of legislative staffers Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper accusing former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, of sexual harassment. Arnold has denied the charge. The plaintiffs also named LRC as a defendant.

Early this year, the plaintiffs added Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, as a defendant to the case after Bell fired Costner from her job in the House majority whip's office after he was elected whip. The plaintiffs accused Bell of improprieties and alleged he fired Costner partly "to have an intimate sexual relationship" with another woman he wanted to hire. Bell has denied the accusations.

The second case was brought by legislative staffer Nicole Cusic who alleges she was punished - transferred to an inferior job - after she complained that Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, had sexually harassed female legislative staffers. Coursey has denied the charge and brought a defamation case against Cusic.

Cusic also named the LRC and former LRC Director Bobby Sherman as defendants in her case.

While key players spoke hopefully Tuesday that mediation will succeed, they agreed to mediation once before without any luck. Clay said he withdrew before that mediation process resumed pressing the cases after Costner was fired by Bell.

The new agreement to mediate puts on hold - and may make unnecessary - a pending deposition that Clay wants to take of Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat who chairs the House majority caucus. Overly, who is running for lieutenant governor on a slate with Attorney General Jack Conway as the candidate for governor, has asked Franklin Circuit Court to seal her deposition.


By Tom Loftus, The Courier-Journal
April, 2015


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