Kentucky GOP Lawmakers Pay Accuser $110,000 in Secret Sexual Harassment Settlement, Then Sue to Get Money Back

Marissa Espinosa, a former staffer, received $110,000 in a secret sexual harassment settlement from three current and former Republican Kentucky lawmakers.

Now, those same male lawmakers have filed a lawsuit against the victim asking for the money back, plus interest, alleging that Espinosa violated the confidentiality agreement and that she tricked them into entering the settlement. They have denied wrongdoing, and said they supposedly only entered into the agreement to keep her quiet during the #MeToo movement.

The lawsuit says that Espinosa told two coworkers about the secret settlement, House GOP Communications Director Daisy Olivo and House Clerk Brad Metcalf. Both of them have since been fired and both have filed whistleblower lawsuits, saying that they were punished by being fired for reporting the harassment of Espinosa.

The three lawmakers who paid, with their own money, to keep Espinosa quiet are former Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who remains a House member, along with state Rep. Michael Meredith and former state Rep. Jim DeCesare. The settlement was revealed by the Courier Journal.

“According to testimony the staffer gave under oath in October 2018, Hoover sexually assaulted her more than 50 times during her employment, groping her in the hallway or in the elevator and touching her between her legs under the table at gatherings,” WFPL reports. “She described it as ‘nearly daily touching,’ and said she didn’t feel as though she could ask him to stop.”

Hoover subsequently resigned as state House speaker after the secret settlement became public. DeCesare did not run for re-election in 2018. But Hoover was re-elected to the House without any opposition and Meredith defeated a Democratic opponent so House GOP leadership team restored him as to a position as committee chairman.

Hoover denied sexually harassing Espinosa but admitted he sent her inappropriate but allegedly consensual text messages. Hoover also admitted to a violation of legislative ethics code by acting in an “inappropriate” manner and he paid a $1,000 fine. But ethics charges against Meredith, DeCesare and Linder were dismissed.

It’s not clear how the other two lawmakers interacted with Espinosa.

Espinosa has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit because the non-disclosure agreement is void anyway because it restricts the woman’s right to free speech and the public’s right to know about the misconduct of elected officials. Her lawyer says the settlement should have been public record anyway.

On top of that, Hoover himself, who was also bound by the non-disclosure agreement, has held press conferences and made statements to the media regarding the accusations. He himself has already broken the agreement, while the victim has never spoken publicly.

Espinosa’s motion includes the provision that if their contract is rescinded, she can then pursue claims of sexual harassment and retaliation.

A hearing on the victim’s dismissal motion is scheduled for April 19.

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