Pennsylvania Senate Democrats on Thursday renewed their call for Sen. Daylin Leach to resign, after an investigation they commissioned concluded that Leach engaged in workplace humor that was at times “unquestionably sexual in nature” but that his conduct fell short of violating federal discrimination law.
The report, prepared by lawyers from the firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC, said none of the witnesses they interviewed described Leach’s sexual humor as "directed at or toward any particular individual” but rather generally about newsworthy current events and political happenings.
“Jokes with a sexual context, however, have the potential to create a hostile work environment even if not aimed at any particular individual,” the report noted.
Leach has represented Montgomery County in the legislature for more than a decade. He has battled claims over his conduct or comments since late 2017, when an Inquirer article reported allegations from women on his legislative staff and campaigns who accused him of inappropriate touching and sexualized jokes.
The lawyers who completed the review stated that while they found “no evidence of actionable discrimination or harassment in violation of applicable law” in his behavior, Senate Democrats may interpret their own caucus policies to impose a broader standard on their members.
Leach has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and sued one of his accusers.
“This has been something we’ve been dealing with for two years and three months. I’m hopeful that this will be the end of it,” Leach said in an interview Thursday. “I feel like my family and I have been through enough.”
Leach noted that the report said there were no complaints about inappropriate jokes or comments from people who worked for him in the legislature, and that none of the witnesses described a specific instance in which a woman had claimed he had touched her in a “sexually inappropriate way.”
He acknowledged that he had at times engaged in “off-color humor,” but said his jokes were now limited to “PG” content.
After the report’s release, Senate Democratic leader Jay Costa renewed his call for Leach to resign.
“In the aggregate, the behavior outlined here rises to a level that should not be tolerated by anyone,” Costa said in a statement. “I continue to feel that this conduct is unacceptable and irresponsible; this caucus does not and will not condone this treatment of our staff or fellow members."
Other Senate Democrats, as well as Gov. Tom Wolf and the Montgomery County Democratic Party, have also said Leach should resign.
When Senate Democrats said they had reviewed Eckert Seamans’ preliminary report in June, Leach said he had been “absolved” of “false charges” made against him.
Investigators said they reviewed 11 allegations made against Leach, several of which were first reported in the 2017 Inquirer article.
The report said witnesses had substantiated several of them. For example, witnesses told investigators that the senator joked about wanting to hire a “full set” of secretaries: a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead — resembling “Charlie’s Angels.” Leach admitted making this joke.
But some allegations were disputed by witnesses, the report said. One campaign staffer who told The Inquirer that in 2015 Leach had slid his hand down her back, then touched her rear end, told the investigators that she actually stepped away before he could have touched her rear, the report said. Leach denied any physical contact, the report says.
The same woman also reported that once Leach approached her from behind and tickled her torso while she was sitting at her desk in the Capitol building. The lawyers’ report said she clarified that Leach had actually tickled her sides — for just seconds — and that the physical contact shocked her.
The senator denied tickling her, “but admitted that he put his hands on her shoulders while commenting that he was glad to see her there,” the report says.
Lawyers also interviewed Sens. Katie Muth and Maria Collett — two Democrats whose districts include parts of Montgomery County — who accused Leach of engaging in demeaning behavior and bullying. But in part because elected officials are not considered employees under federal antidiscrimination law, their allegations could not form the basis for a sexual-harassment claim, investigators said.
Democrats had retained the law firm in January after an Allentown-area resident, Cara Taylor, circulated a private criminal complaint to lawmakers alleging that Leach had sexually assaulted her in 1991.
In their report, the Eckert Seamans lawyers wrote that while investigators “made every effort to attempt to corroborate either Ms. Taylor’s or Senator Leach’s version of events, we were unable to uncover any facts or information to permit us to believe one version of events over the other.”
“Accordingly, without diminishing the beliefs of either party to this dispute, we cannot form any conclusion based on the facts at hand," the report says.
Leach has a pending defamation lawsuit against Taylor.
Senate Democrats said that the caucus had begun to implement Eckert Seamans’ proposed recommendations, such as mandating workplace harassment training for senators and staff.