HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania House Democrats spent nearly a quarter-million dollars in taxpayer money to secretly settle a sexual harassment complaint against a 40-year lawmaker, according to a document obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
A payment of $248,000 went to resolve a complaint in 2015 against State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, a Democratic lawmaker from Berks County, by a longtime legislative staffer. The settlement included a nondisclosure agreement, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The year after the settlement, Caltagirone, a legislator since 1977, won reelection to his 21st two-year term; he was unopposed in the primary and the general election.
It was not clear whether Caltagirone, who faced a separate and widely publicized sexual harassment complaint in the mid-1990s, was disciplined or reprimanded after the 2015 payout. House Democrats would not discuss details of the case, and Caltagirone did not respond to requests for comment.
Hours after the Inquirer and Daily News reported the settlement on Tuesday, Gov. Wolf, a fellow Democrat, called on Caltagirone to resign, saying: "Verbal and physical harassment is flat-out wrong, whether towards an employee or any other person."
The payout in Caltagirone's case was in addition to $30,000 that House Democrats made in 2013 to end a sexual harassment lawsuit against former State Rep. Jewell Williams, now Philadelphia's sheriff.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) this week declined to be interviewed about the settlement payouts, which were itemized in a document prepared by the state's Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, and obtained by the newspapers. The bureau manages the state's self-insurance programs, and investigates and pays tort claims and lawsuits against the state and its employees, including harassment suits.
In a statement Tuesday, Dermody said he could not discuss a case where the parties involved agreed to keep the terms confidential: "I don't like it, and I wish I could disclose more of the specifics, but I have to follow the law."
The document obtained by the newspapers is the first indication that Pennsylvania's legislature has dipped into public funds multiple times to settle such claims — a practice that has received renewed scrutiny in recent weeks as a wave of sexual harassment cases roils statehouses across the country.
A group of female lawmakers is pushing a package of bills to strengthen Pennsylvania law on sexual harassment, including one by Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D., Delaware) that would ban nondisclosure agreements in legislative sexual harassment cases and prohibit lawmakers from using taxpayer money to settle such claims.
In all, the document shows that House Democrats paid $600,000 since 2007 to settle four complaints against legislators: the two sexual harassment cases, as well as two cases involving claims by legislative staffers that they were improperly fired.
Late Tuesday, however, House Democrats said they had spent roughly $514,000 to settle the claims. They did not give specifics on any of the complaints, break down how much each cost, or explain the discrepancy between the figures.
The document does not show payouts by House Republicans. Their spokesman, Steve Miskin, said that "as far as we know, we have not made any type of payout or payment" for sexual harassment claims.
Caltagirone, 75, for many years chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Messages were left at his district office and his home, and on his cellphone. He also did not respond to an email.
The woman paid as a result of her claim against Caltagirone declined to comment, referring questions to the lawyer who handled her case. The lawyer, Patricia Pierce of Greenblatt Pierce Funt & Flores in Philadelphia, did not return calls to her office.
The Inquirer and Daily News and the Post-Gazette are withholding the woman's name, as her case involved allegations of verbal and physical harassment over several years. State records show that she worked for Caltagirone in his district office in Reading for a decade, starting in 2004, and earned about $63,000 a year when she left.
House Democrats authorized paying the woman $165,500 in February 2015, and her lawyer $82,500 that same month. The report does not give details about her case.
Mike Herzing, a spokesman for Dermody, would not say who authorized the payout.
But another document related to the Caltagirone case shows that Nora Winkelman, the top lawyer for House Democrats, wrote that the settlement was "in the best interests" of the institution because the woman's threat to file an EEOC complaint and civil suit was "real and imminent," and defending the claim over a long period would be costly.
Winkelman also wrote that the woman had initially asked for $1.5 million.
The disclosure on Caltagirone cames two days after the Inquirer and Daily News reported that State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat running for Congress, had crossed the line with sexual talk and inappropriate touching, according to interviews with former campaign and legislative staffers.
Leach, 56, denied that he inappropriately touched women. Several prominent Democrats, including Wolf, have since called for Leach to resign. On Monday, he announced that he would be "taking a step back" from his congressional campaign.
A 'Need to Know'
Each caucus in the legislature has its own sexual harassment policy. The policy for House Democrats, updated earlier this year, prohibits "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" when it is made a condition of employment, is used as the basis for employment decisions, or creates an "intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment."
The same policy states that if an employee makes a complaint, "a preliminary investigation will be conducted to determine the merits of the case and to seek a prompt resolution." If a quick resolution can't be reached, a formal investigation follows, including interviews and a review of personnel files and other relevant documents.
"Confidentiality is essential to the fair investigation and resolution of complaints under this policy. Only those individuals who have a 'need to know' about the investigation and resolution of the complaint will be entitled to the information," according to the policy.
It does not provide any insight into how decisions are made about settlement payments or who authorizes them.
In Caltagirone's case, it marked the second time he faced accusations of sexually harassing a subordinate.
Allegations, investigations and a truce
In 1994, a grand jury investigated claims by a contract worker in his office that the legislator demanded she have sex with him if she wanted to keep her job. The woman — the sister-in-law of Caltagirone's ex-wife – also alleged that during an out-of-town trip with Caltagirone, she walked into a room and found him naked and that, when she fled that house, he chased her and at gunpoint ordered her into his car.
Caltagirone denied any wrongdoing. A grand jury concluded there was "more than enough evidence" to prosecute but then-acting Attorney General Walter Cohen announced that charges would not be filed in the case. Attorney General Tom Corbett later also declined to file charges, saying the woman, Marci Lynn Santoro, was credible but there was not enough evidence to win a conviction.