HARRISBURG — Gov. Wolf has asked a state agency to prohibit taxpayer money from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials following news that the House paid nearly a quarter-million dollars to settle a complaint against State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone.
"I've put into place reforms that we make sure that we don't do that anymore — that I don't care who starts it — that the state doesn't pay taxpayer money for settlements," Wolf said Thursday morning.
The governor's office said he "was not aware of this settlement or payment" until Tuesday, when the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette broke news of the secret payout. In 2015, checks totaling $248,000 were cut to a longtime employee in Caltagirone's district office and her attorneys, arising from claims of verbal and physical harassment over several years. Caltagirone, 75, a Democrat from Reading, Berks County, has denied the claims and said his attorneys encouraged a settlement to avoid the high costs of fighting a case in court.
The money passed through the Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program, which pays for claims where the state is liable, often covering things like damage to private vehicles. Each legislative caucus and the executive branch pay into the fund based on the number of employees they have, past complaints and other factors that might impact their risk level.
The state's Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, which falls under the umbrella of the Department of General Services, processes the payments but does not get involved in negotiating or approving settlement terms. In this case, that would have been done by the House Democratic caucus, led by Minority Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County. Dermody has declined interview requests, saying that he was prohibited from discussing cases with confidentiality agreements.
J.J. Abbott, spokesman for Wolf, said the bureau director that oversees the insurance program determined in October 2014 that the settlement could be paid through the state fund. He said that decision was made "solely by" the bureau director.
Wolf, a Democrat, took office late in January of 2015, and the checks were cut the following month.
Former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who preceded Wolf in office, said Thursday, "I have no recollection of this kind of stuff happening."
He said, "As far as I know, that wouldn't have come to me. If that was a settlement that [the] caucus agreed to with whoever, that would have been, as far as I know, pro forma."
Abbott said Wolf directed DGS to immediately stop approving settlement payments from the liability fund in cases of sexual harassment and abuse by elected officials.