FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s former GOP House speaker had a consensual sexual relationship with a woman in his office and used money from political donors to pay for her silence, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by a Republican aide.
House Republican Caucus Communications Director Daisy Olivo filed the suit Monday in which she said she was retaliated against for reporting official misconduct.
Former Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover resigned his leadership position last month after acknowledging he settled a sexual harassment claim from a woman in his office. Hoover denied sexual harassment, but said he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages to the woman. In a news conference announcing his resignation, Hoover said “at no time were there ever any sexual relations of any kind.”
But Olivo’s lawsuit says that the woman told Olivo that she had “physical, sexual encounters” with Hoover “both during work hours, and outside of work hours.” Hoover, who is married with three daughters, remains in the House. The woman wasn’t identified in the suit.
State officials have confirmed taxpayers did not pay for the settlement, and House Republican leaders hired a law firm to find out who did. That investigation, released last week, said lawmakers used their own money plus loans from banks and family and friends “not involved in lobbying, government contract work or any other impermissible endeavour.”
Olivo’s lawsuit, however, says the money “was paid off the public record with private funds pooled from prominent campaign donors.” Acting House Speaker David Osborne has asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to use its subpoena power to find out if any portion of the settlement was paid “by a political donor or lobbyist” and whether any ethics laws were broken.
Hoover, through a spokesman, did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday. He has refused to talk about the incident, either publicly or with investigators, because he says the settlement requires him to stay silent.
The scandal comes at a time when the country is grappling with multiple instances of sexual harassment in the workplace, including high-profile cases that have toppled powerful men in politics, entertainment and media. And it has also caused a rift among Kentucky Republicans, who are in their first year of full control of state government after decades of dominance by Democrats.
Three other Republican lawmakers involved in the settlement have lost their committee chairmanships, but have not resigned their seats.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin asked the state Republican Party on Saturday to call for the resignation of Hoover and the other three lawmakers who paid to settle the sexual harassment claim, but party leaders refused. Bevin called it “not a proud day for the Republican Party.”
According to the lawsuit, the woman involved in the relationship with Hoover worked for Olivo in the communications office. Olivo said she reprimanded the woman several times “for, then, consensual, but inappropriate conduct with Rep. Hoover.”
It adds that Olivo said she confronted Hoover about the relationship Sept. 5. She also says she reported it to Hoover’s chief of staff, Ginger Wills, plus the attorney and human resources director for the Legislative Research Commission.
But Olivo, in the suit, said Wills viewed the woman as the aggressor in the relationship and said she had “forced the Speaker into a ‘submissive’ relationship, which was damaging Rep. Hoover’s ability to do his job.” Olivo said Wills planned to fire the woman, but Olivo objected because the relationship was consensual.
Wills did not respond to an email seeking comment.
What followed, according to Olivo, was retaliation from Wills and others that made it impossible for Olivo to do her job. She said she was stripped of her job responsibilities and said other lawmakers were trying to intimidate her.
The lawsuit names the Legislative Research Commission as defendant. Hoover is not named.
Olivo is asking in the suit for money to compensate her for a hostile work environment and to punish those she says is responsible. She also hopes to recoup her attorneys’ fees.