Central Texas lawmaker paid $84K in taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claim

Blake Farenthold
FILE - In this March 19, 2013 file photo, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House Ethics Committee says it is continuing an investigation of Farenthold, despite a recommendation by an investigative panel that the complaint be dismissed. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two sources tell NBC News that Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint from his former spokeswoman.

Lauren Greene, the Republican’s former communications director, sued him in December 2014 over gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

NBC confirms Farenthold used money from the U.S. Congressional Office of Compliance to pay Greene $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle.

“While I 100 percent support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question,” said Farenthold in a statement.

He denied all the allegations several years ago during the lawsuit. At the time his office released the following statement:

“After it became clear that further litigating this case would come at great expense to all involved – including the taxpayers – the parties engaged in mediation with a court-appointed mediator. After extensive discussion and consideration, the parties jointly agreed to accept the solution proposed by the mediator. The parties believe that the mediator’s solution saves the parties, and the taxpayers, significant sums that would be expended in further discovery and/or trial. The parties’ settlement expressly provides that both parties deny all liability,” the statement said.

Political groups were outraged Friday.

“Blake Farenthold’s conduct towards a female staffer is unlawful and disgusting, to say the least. Using Texas taxpayer dollars as a piggy bank to hide your demeaning and degrading harassment of women is even worse,” said Texas Democratic Party Executive Director, Crystal Perkins. “Texas Republican Blake Farenthold has violated the public trust and shown a pattern of demeaning, degrading, and disrespectful conduct towards women. Farenthold’s business as a United States Representative should come to an abrupt and justifiable end.”

Local GOP leaders call for him to resign and refund the money 

Farenthold’s district spans from Corpus Christi to Bastrop County and Caldwell County.

The Caldwell County Republican Party Chair, Kathy Haigle — speaking for herself — said she was incredibly disappointed and Farenthold should refund the taxpayer money and also resign.

“Everyone I’ve talked with about this issue agrees with me that anyone who has used taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment lawsuits or complaints should not only refund the taxpayer money, but also resign — regardless of their partisan label or position in government,” said Haigle.

The Caldwell County Republicans as a whole has not yet met to discuss the issue. Travis County Republican Party Chair Matt Mackowiak agrees with Haigle.

“I think we have to have high standards. There has to be consequences. And what makes this one different is that taxpayer dollars were used,” said Mackowiak.

The Bastrop County Chair and the State Republican Party had no comment.

Scrapping office that settles claims with taxpayer dollars

Taking a closer look at the Congressman’s statement:

“While I 100 percent support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question,” said Farenthold.

The Congressional Accountability Act was passed in 1995. Before then workplace safety laws did not apply to Congress. That act created a multi-step dispute resolution process for capitol staffers in the Congressional Office of Compliance. It allows the parties to work on a taxpayer-funded settlement rather than go to court. NBC News confirms as part of that process, Farenthold paid his former communications director $84,000.

“It’s so tone deaf and really ridiculous,” said Mackowiak, called on Farenthold to resign and all Texas Congressman to scrap the Office of Compliance, “he should never have signed off on letting taxpayer dollars be used to settle something that relates to his personal, private, inappropriate behavior.”

Democratic Congressman John Conyers, D-Michigan, faces sexual misconduct accusations from several women and might step down after news broke that he settled his $27,000 claim with funds from the Office of Compliance as well.

His attorney says the 88 year old, who was first elected in 1964, will discuss his future in the coming days. He was admitted to the hospital yesterday for stress.

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