Where does Pa. get money to settle sexual harassment claims?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A female staffer alleges sexual harassment against state Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks). He denies it. But $248,000 is spent to settle it. You paid for it.

That, we know. But where, exactly, is the cash coming from?

The claim was paid through the Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program. It’s basically the state’s self-insurance fund. The legislature and state agencies pay premiums to settle claims made by employees or against employees. The premium’s cost is determined by the number of employees covered and the risk assessment of the group.

It can include slip-and-falls or claims of workplace intimidation and covers upwards of 80,000 workers, says Department of General Services spokesman Troy Thompson.

“There’s a large, diverse category of what can fall into that and sexual harassment is a small portion,” Thompson said.

The fund is technically under Gov. Tom Wolf’s jurisdiction, but the Department of General Services, which oversees ELSIP, insists it just processes payments to claimants. Thompson says the department didn’t approve the payout and couldn’t veto it.

“They’re not involved in the litigation or negotiation that may occur throughout a claim or a complaint,” Thompson said.

Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon) is disturbed by the secrecy of the payout.

“If someone really did victimize someone, perhaps it should come out of their own pocket and perhaps pension contributions,” Ryan said.

Ryan added that taxpayers should always be informed when their money is used for payouts even if a victim’s name is withheld. He suspects the hush-hush nature of such settlements is nothing more than incumbent protection.

“I tell people all the time that call us honorable,” Ryan said of the title automatically given to legislators. “Winning an election doesn’t make you honorable. Your character makes you honorable. Sometimes, I think we get put on a pedestal that doesn’t make sense.”

ELSIP claims are capped at $250,000. The Caltagirone case cost $248,000, which might be a bargain, legal experts tell us. If it was an egregious case that went to court, the victim, in theory, could’ve gotten millions in state money.

“Any way you cut it, taxpayers are paying for the sexual harassment payouts or the shut up money in other words,” said Capitol watchdog Eric Epstein, of Rock the Capital.

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