Count Pennsylvania state government among the high-profile organizations feeling the sting of scrutiny concerning allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct.
The state is facing problems on two fronts:
— Elected officials: The state Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program paid out for settlements in allegations against state Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, a Berks County Democrat, and former state Rep. Jewell Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat who is now that city’s sheriff. The insurer paid $250,000 in the Caltagirone case and $30,000 in the case against Jewell — who is facing similar accusations in his current job, as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer and other outlets.
— Non-elected employees: Several departments within state government have faced a slew of allegations over the past five years, right-to-know requests show. Highest among them are the Corrections Department (91 sexual harassment reports), the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (60 reports) and the Human Services Department (58 reports). The state police had 34 reports during the five years ending June 30. Human services and corrections are the departments with the most employees — more than 30,000 combined.
Gov. Tom Wolf has called on the Department of General Services to stop using the insurance fund to make payments in cases involving elected officials.
“Governor Wolf wants to bar payments for settlements from the state’s self-insurance program for abusive behavior by elected officials, and he has directed the Department of General Services to reform the process immediately,” Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott told John Finnerty, our Harrisburg reporter. “Sexual harassment victims deserve protection and elected officials who engage in such awful behavior do not.”
We agree that these individuals should pay for their own financial protection rather than reaching out to taxpayer-funded insurance policies when their behaviors come into question.
Settlements in the Caltagirone and Jewell cases note that both deny the allegations against them and bar accusers from talking publicly about their cases.
State House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody told Finnerty that his party’s caucus has paid out $514,300 in such settlements over the past 10 years, although Dermody would not say how much of that total involved sexual harassment claims.
Wolf called on fellow Democrat Caltagirone to resign from office — along with others who face such allegations of inappropriate behavior. We agree.
“Verbal and physical harassment is flat-out wrong, whether toward an employee or any other person. Rep. Caltagirone should resign,” Wolf said.
Female elected officials in both the House and Senate are working to change legislative procedures to bar non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault and harassment, arguing that keeping the settlements secret makes it easier for serial predators to continue with those behaviors.
A proposal by state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, a Delaware County Democrat, would prohibit using taxpayer funds for settlements, among other changes.
Abbott said the state is conducting “an analysis of settlements” concerning complaints against employees.
We urge Wolf and his top administrators to expand and toughen their policies to protect women who work in state government facilities and to ensure maximum discipline for those who engage in sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviors.
—The Johnstown Tribune Democrat