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Details Released in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Settlement Against LRC, Kentucky Legislators

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  Parties in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the state Legislative Research Commission and legislators announced in June that a settlement had been reached.

But more than a month later, the settlement is still not official because not all of the defendants have signed it, said Thomas Clay, the attorney for the plaintiffs.

Documents provided Thursday by Clay show that his firm will get most of the settlement money.  According to the settlement agreement, the Louisville law firm Clay Daniel Walton & Adams and Thomas Clay will receive $135,705.

Of the plaintiffs:

  • Yolanda Costner, a former staffer in the Capitol, will receive $ 93,323.
  • Caussaundra Cooper, a staffer for House Floor Majority Leader Rep. Rocky Adkins, will receive $86,573.
  • Nicole Cusic, who works in House Majority Whip Rep. Johnny Bell’s office, will receive $84,397.

The defendants held that the settlement was not an admission of guilt to the allegations, according to the documents.
In mediation, the LRC—which gives administrative support to Kentucky legislators— agreed to pay $400,000 to settle the case.

As part of the settlement agreement, Rep. Will Coursey, a Democrat from Symsonia, will drop a defamation lawsuit brought against Cusic, who accused him of sexually harassing staffers in the Capitol. Cusic had alleged that her harassment allegations had led to a Cusic retaliating against her.

The tentative settlement brings to a close two lengthy lawsuits filed in October 2013. In the first, Caussandra and Cooper accused former Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, of inappropriately touching them, and also accused former LRC Director Robert Sherman of not protecting them from the legislator.

The LRC has been led by an interim director since Sherman resigned in fall 2013, and was the focus of an audit of its policies. The agency, which is overseen by state legislative leaders, moved in June to begin hiring a permanent leader.

The allegations were made public in summer 2013 by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and WFPL News.

Rep. Johnny Bell, a Democrat from Glasgow and newly selected House whip, wasadded to the lawsuit earlier this year when Costner alleged that Bell fired her from the whip’s office in retaliation for the lawsuit.

The second lawsuit, filed on behalf of Cusic, was brought against Robert Sherman and Rep. Will Coursey by Nicole Cusic.

Last week, House Speaker Greg Stumbo revealed that Sherman and Arnold would make additional settlement payments, but Coursey and Bell would not.

Attorneys for Sherman and Arnold have not returned requests for comment.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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