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Louisiana’s elections chief accused of sexual harassment

February 22, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A lawsuit accuses Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler of sexually harassing an employee for years and punishing her after she rebuffed his repeated advances.

In response to the suit’s allegations, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office said Schedler and his accuser had a “consensual sexual relationship.” The woman’s lawyer, Jill Craft, denied that claim.

The woman’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in a state court, claims Schedler frequently sent her love letters, sexually propositioned her and showed up at her doorstep with unwanted gifts, including sex tapes. It also claims Schedler enlisted help from state security personnel to report on her whereabouts.

Schedler, a 68-year-old Republican who was elected to a second four-year term in 2015, said in a statement that he hadn’t seen the suit but believes in a “safe workplace, free from harassment.”

“We take any allegation of sexual harassment very seriously here at the secretary of state’s office,” he said.

The lawsuit says Schedler’s harassment of the woman began approximately a decade ago and escalated over the years. Schedler hired the woman to be his executive secretary in 2011 but later transferred her to a job “where she was given virtually nothing to do all day.”

“At the time of her transfer, (Schedler) made it clear to her that she was going to be exiled until she learned how to please him and make him happy,” the suit says.

Schedler is the state’s chief election officer and administers the state corporation and trademark laws. He was first elected to his current position in 2011 after inheriting the office from a predecessor who ran for lieutenant governor.

Schedler is the most prominent Louisiana political figure to face sexual harassment allegations since an expose of movie executive Harvey Weinstein last fall fueled the #MeToo movement on social media and sparked a national conversation about such claims.

Craft said the #MeToo movement helped inspire her client to file the lawsuit after years of harassment. Craft also said she contacted someone in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration last August to report her client’s allegations about Schedler.

Richard Carbo, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said the woman’s attorney contacted Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief financial adviser, about the allegations “for the purpose of engaging (Schedler) in the matter.” Dardenne was the secretary of state before Schedler.

“All of the information given to Commissioner Dardenne was handed over to the Secretary of State as requested by the petitioner’s attorney,” Carbo said in a statement.

Craft said her client is still employed by the secretary of state’s office.

The lawsuit claims Schedler’s harassment began shortly after he joined the secretary of state’s office in 2007 and bought a town house in the same 16-unit complex as his accuser. Schedler invited her to dinners and other events and asked her to join her on a trip to Sedona, Arizona, where he booked them into the same room, the suit says.

The woman repeatedly told Schedler that she wasn’t interested in him sexually, but his advances continued, the suit says. In 2009, he allegedly gave her a Valentine’s card that included the words, “I’m not interested in a nice, normal relationship!” circled by a heart. In December 2016, Schedler approached her with a naked photograph of a woman and asked if she could paint it for him, the suit alleges.

Edwards’ deputy chief of staff, Johnny Anderson, stepped down in November amid sexual harassment claims. Edwards created a seven-member study group to review Louisiana’s policies for handling such claims.

Data recently provided to The Associated Press and other news outlets shows the state has paid at least $2.6 million since 2004 to settle nearly four dozen sexual harassment claims, including allegations against college professors, judges, health care workers and one former state lawmaker.

Schedler said in his statement that he and his wife have been living apart “for a long time,” adding that friends and relatives “have known of our personal status and have lovingly supported our decision.”

“While I understand that my service as a public official opens my private life to outside scrutiny, I’ve found support from others who have experienced similar marital issues in their personal life and can empathize,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Melinda Deslatte contributed to this story.

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