HARRISBURG, Pa. - Democrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives agreed to pay out more than a half-million dollars in taxpayers' money to settle claims by employees over the last decade, according to the caucus' leader.
The $514,300 in payouts since 2007 were to settle sexual harassment claims against two members, and five were other types of employment matters, said state Rep. Frank Dermody, a Pittsburgh-area Democrat who leads his party's House caucus.
"When we agree with an employee to settle a complaint, we do so with the advice of counsel and mindful of the effect the underlying complaint may have had on the employee making the complaint and what his or her best interests are," Dermody said. "In addition, because complaints by employees are very often filed against the Caucus or the House as the employer, we also take into account whether settling a complaint will reduce the risk that protracted litigation may be a financial drain on the commonwealth."
Nearly half the amount of taxpayer money paid in the settlements -- $248,000 -- was for a 2015 complaint against Berks County state Rep. Tom Caltagirone by a legislative staffer who worked for about a decade in his Reading office, according to a report published Tuesday afternoon by The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"I cannot discuss the specifics of a settlement where the parties agreed to keep the terms confidential," Dermody said. "I don't like it and I wish I could disclose more of the specifics, but I have to follow the law."
A "sovereign immunity-tort claims settlement memorandum and invoice" obtained by The Associated Press asserted Caltagirone's staffer had initially made a claim of $1.5 million for what was called "a complaint of discrimination, among other things" under a federal law that bans discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
"We do our best to provide all Caucus employees with a safe workplace, free from discrimination and harassment," Dermody said. "We have a written anti-discrimination, anti-harassment policy with an articulated complaint procedure for employees. We take all complaints seriously, act on them quickly and investigate them, going to great lengths to try to ascertain the facts."
The report Tuesday prompted Gov. Tom Wolf to call on Caltagirone to step down from the seat he's held for 40 years.
"Verbal and physical harassment is flat-out wrong, whether towards an employee or any other person," Wolf said. "Rep. Caltagirone should resign."
Caltagirone has not commented on the report or on the calls for him to quit.
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