HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A veteran Pennsylvania state representative insisted Wednesday he was innocent of any misconduct and said he does not plan to resign after reports the state paid a quarter-million dollars to settle his former aide’s claim of sexual harassment.
Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks, said in a written statement he was prohibited from discussing specifics of any employment-related settlement, but added that from the start he has denied all accusations.
“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 wrote. “I will not engage in victim blaming.”
His comments came a day after The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported that Pennsylvania taxpayers funded the 2015 payment. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday urged Caltagirone to resign.
The details of the allegations against Caltagirone, 75, have not been made public.
Two years ago, House Democratic caucus chief counsel Nora Winkelman told the state’s Department of General Services, which runs a self-insurance fund that eventually paid on the claim, that a legislative assistant in Caltagirone’s district office had initially made a $1.5 million claim for “a complaint of discrimination, among other things” under a federal law that bans discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
The fund approved payments to the woman of about $165,000 and $82,500 to her lawyer. They both previously declined comment and neither responded Wednesday to messages left after Caltagirone’s statement was released.
Caltagirone said he does not believe the Legislature “can objectively police itself relative to these matters within the politically super-charged environment in which we currently live,” and endorsed the creation of a new agency “free of political interference.”
The former ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee also described some of his work to fight sexual assault on campus, extend the statute of limitations for sexual assault victims and provide feminine hygiene products to female inmates.
“I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect, but I work every day to be a better person than I was the day before and a better public voice for the people I am honored to serve,” he wrote.
News of the payment has put a spotlight on the state government self-insurance program. Wolf, who said he learned of the payment to Caltagirone’s ex-aide this week, said he wants to prevent using the fund for cases of abusive behavior by elected officials and ordered the Department of General Services to change it.
“Sexual harassment victims deserve protection and elected officials who engage in such awful behavior do not,” said Wolf press secretary J.J. Abbott. “He also does not think the program should cover the liability of non-executive branch employees.”
It’s unclear how many other settlements involving the General Assembly have been made through the employee liability self-insurance program. It requires agencies — and both chambers of the Legislature — to pay into it based on how many employees they have and their level of assessed risk.
The General Services department said Wednesday that its Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, which oversees the fund, does not get involved in litigation or handling complaints. It determines if a claim is eligible after settlement terms have been negotiated.
A General Services spokesman said a typical claim under the fund would involve a Transportation Department project or damage involving vehicles.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, revealed Tuesday that since 2007 his caucus has agreed to pay out $514,000 to settle claims. He said two were for sexual harassment claims against two members, and five involved other types of employment matters.
The state’s elected fiscal watchdog, Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, said he was outraged that the total amount disclosed by Dermody was just being made public.
“Taxpayer money should never be used to settle sexual harassment claims against an elected official,” said DePasquale, who formerly represented York in the House. “As a former legislator, I know that many members, including myself, were unaware that these payments were made. We need to put a stop to it.”