Attorney in sexual harassment case raises questions about underwear incident involving lawmaker

04/14/2014 06:54 PM

(WITH VIDEO) — The conduct of the lawmaker who on Monday helped halt a resolution supporting legislative staffers who raised sexual harassment claims also should be under scrutiny, the attorney for the two women said.

Thomas Clay, who is representing two of the three women who have brought sexual harassment complaints against former Democratic Rep. John Arnold, raised questions about an incident last July involving Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence. Gooch was the lawmaker who raised a point of order on Monday to shelve a resolution supporting Clay’s clients, Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper.

Clay said he believes Gooch had a “conflict of interest” by halting the resolution because of an incident at the Southern Legislative Conference in which Gooch threw out a pair of women’s underwear onto a table in front of other Kentucky lawmakers and staff members, including Costner and Cooper.

While Gooch acknowledged that it happened, he denied that he did that in any suggestive or sexual way. He said a woman he didn’t know gave him the underwear in the hallway of the conference, and he was recounting it to the Kentucky group.

“She stuck in my pocket a pair of women’s panties,” Gooch said adding that the women said they were from her friend. “I went back and I was just kinda shocked and I told some people there at the table about what happened, and it’s something I also told my wife about.”

Hear Gooch’s full explanation here:

Gooch said he didn’t think he had offended anyone and said apologized if anyone was offended by it.

Earlier on Monday, Democratic Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, who has backed the staffers since they first made the allegations last year, had introduced the resolution to praise and support them for their courage in bringing forward the complaints about inappropriate touching and comments made by Arnold, who resigned in September.

Gooch said he raised the point of order about the resolution because he didn’t believe it was appropriate that the House should formally weigh in on the saga while the two women’s civil lawsuit against Arnold and the legislative branch was still pending.

Clay said the incident with Gooch, alone, is not likely to be the subject of another complaint. But he said he sees Gooch’s actions as part of a wider “culture” that has persisted in the House.

“I’m not sure I accept at face value what Representative Gooch’s version is,” Clay said. “Certainly, it’s not appropriate in any setting for a man to come in and plop down a pair of underwear on a table seated with other people from (the Legislative Research Commission) and other representatives. And he can put any spin on it he wants to. But I think when the facts are laid out there, I don’t think anybody was going to think his conduct was appropriate.”

House Democratic leaders said they didn’t know about the incident involving Gooch until Monday when asked by Pure Politics. House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Democratic House Whip Tommy Thompson, for whom Costner works, each said they didn’t attend that legislative conference and had not heard any complaints or accounts of the incident.


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