Lawsuit claims Kentucky Republican lawmaker threatened state worker

Lawsuit claims Kentucky Republican lawmaker threatened state worker
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

A lawsuit filed in a Kentucky circuit court claims Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) threatened a senior state legislative staffer who reported allegations of sexual harassment to his superiors, just weeks before the employee was fired.

Brad Metcalf, the former clerk of the Kentucky state House, says he received the threat through a direct message on Twitter from Comer’s account. The direct message used vulgar language and suggested the staffer would soon find himself scrubbing toilets at a pool hall in deep-rural Kentucky.

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“Hey Brad, when the House finally fires your dumbass (which will be very soon) for being a lazy dumb shit, David Williams can help you find a job cleaning shit stains off the commodes at the Corner Pool Room in Burkesville. But I’m sure you won’t last long there because everyone hates you and you are dumb and lazy,” says the direct message obtained by The Hill.

Williams is a former president of the state Senate who now serves as a circuit court judge.

Asked to comment on the direct message sent via Twitter, Comer’s chief of staff, Caroline Cash, said only that Comer does not have an official account.

“Neither Congressman Comer nor his office have an official twitter account. The Congressman’s office does have an official Facebook and Instagram account,” Cash said, providing links to both.

The Twitter account under which Comer tweets carries a verified mark, indicating that Twitter has confirmed it is the congressman’s account. One of the most recent tweets from the account highlights the ceremony in the U.S. Capitol for the Rev. Billy Grahan, who died last month.

 

Metcalf’s lawsuit says that he was fired earlier this year after informing legislative leaders that an employee had reported serial sexual harassment claims to him.

Metcalf met with the employee in October, when she showed him explicit text messages she had exchanged with state House Speaker Jeff Hoover (R) over the course of two years. The employee said she would be filing a sexual harassment complaint about Hoover.

After meeting with the employee, Metcalf received the Twitter message, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Metcalf communicated with Comer, Hoover and other legislative leaders after he received the threatening message, seeking an explanation. He did not receive a response.

On Jan. 1, 2018, Metcalf was fired. After 14 years working in the state legislature, he was escorted off the premises by a state police officer.

Cash, Comer’s chief of staff, did not respond to follow-up questions about the direct message and whether it constituted retaliation against a whistleblower, the lawsuit, or allegations against Hoover.

Hoover did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.

The tension comes amid a sexual harassment scandal sweeping Frankfort, one that cost Hoover his job as the state House Speaker. Hoover is one of four legislators who settled the sexual harassment claim brought by the employee. That settlement has not been made public, though the Louisville Courier-Journal reported its existence last year.

The lawsuit filed Thursday says the woman who had claimed harassment told Metcalf she had entered into a settlement agreement in late October. Metcalf alleges his firing was brought up during meetings that led to the settlement.

Hoover has denied harassing the employee, though he did admit to sending inappropriate text messages.

Shane Sidebottom, a lawyer representing Metcalf, said his client had met with FBI agents and investigators looking into the secret settlement.

“This has its roots in an underlying sexual harassment coverup,” Sidebottom told The Hill. Metcalf “met with investigators, he met with the FBI. He was reporting all of this harassment going on as best as he could, and accurately.”

“I’d be curious to see if that tweet was related to the termination,” Sidebottom said. “I read it as, 'I’m going to send you back to the woods and you’re going to do crap jobs for the rest of your life.'”

A second whistleblower suit was filed in December by another legislative staffer who reported the sexual harassment allegations to Republican leaders. That staffer, Daisy Olivo, had been the communications director for Republican House leadership; after reporting the harassment allegations, her duties were assigned to other staffers, which she alleges amounts to retaliation.

Comer is a close Hoover ally. He came to Congress in 2017, after serving more than a decade in the Kentucky state House and a term as Kentucky’s Agriculture Secretary. He ran for governor in 2015, losing the Republican primary to now-Gov. Matt Bevin (R) by just 83 votes.

After the allegations against Hoover, Bevin called on him to resign. The two top Republicans have clashed over a pension reform plan that has stalled in the legislature.

Seven Kentucky state lawmakers have been accused of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior since the middle of last year, just some of the wave of allegations that have swept state capitals across the country following the Me Too movement.

The Kentucky state House voted Thursday to create a new process by which sexual harassment complaints are reported.