HARRISBURG — As calls mounted Wednesday for his resignation, State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone said he would remain in office, insisting that he had not sexually harassed a former legislative employee who was paid nearly a quarter-million dollars to settle her complaint.
"I have denied all accusations from day one," Caltagirone, a Democrat from Berks County, said in a statement. "I wanted my day in court, but counsel implored the parties to settle because of the high cost of litigating any complaint, legitimate or not."
He added: "I will not engage in victim blaming. … I will not resign."
It was the first time Caltagirone had commented on the sexual harassment case that resulted in a 2015 secret payout of $248,000 to a former longtime employee. The case involved allegations of verbal and physical harassment over several years.
The settlement was first reported Tuesday afternoon in the Inquirer and Daily News and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody has declined to be interviewed but has said he cannot discuss details of cases that involve confidentiality clauses. He said, however, that sometimes such payments are necessary because they protect from lengthy and costly litigation.
Within hours of the report, Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, said Caltagirone should resign. Other Democrats throughout the Capitol late Tuesday and throughout the day Wednesday echoed the governor's call.
The 40-year lawmaker defended his record, noting his support for extending the statute of limitations on prosecution of child sexual abuse. "I have introduced legislation to address rape and sexual assault on college campuses, and providing women with free feminine hygiene products so they can maintain basic human dignity while incarcerated," Caltagirone said.
Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D., Delaware) said she was "astonished" when she read about the secret settlement,
"The public deserves to know when elected officials have abused their power, period — especially when legal action is involved," Krueger-Braneky said in a statement Wednesday.
She has introduced legislation that would ban nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases involving lawmakers or legislative employees, and prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to settle such claims.
Krueger-Braneky also signaled that she was disappointed in the way she learned of the settlement — reading it in the newspaper.
"The women legislators, staff, and interns of the General Assembly deserve better than to find out in the newspaper that a prominent elected official has a concerning history of harassment claims against him," she said.
Caltagirone, a longtime chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, was investigated by the state Attorney General's Office in the mid-1990s after a different female employee said he had at one point exposed himself to her and, after she ran away, brandished a gun while trying to order her to get into a car. The case did not result in criminal charges, over the objections of the grand jury in the case.
Also calling for Caltagirone to resign was fellow Democratic State Rep. Madeleine Dean.
Dean, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said in a statement late Tuesday: "I am disgusted as a state representative, as a taxpayer, and as a woman that taxpayer dollars have been spent to cover up some of these allegations in the past."
This article contains information from the Associated Press.