A high-ranking Democrat in the Kentucky House of Representatives has been added to an ongoing sexual harassment lawsuit in Franklin County.
Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate added state Rep. Johnny Bell of Glasgow last week as a defendant in a case brought by a former state worker against the Legislative Research Commission and former Democratic lawmaker John Arnold.
Yolanda Costner is seeking damages after she says the Legislative Research Commission did not prevent Arnold from sexually harassing her. Costner once worked for former House Democratic Whip Tommy Thompson. But Bell became Costner’s boss last month when he ousted Thompson in a leadership election. Bell soon dismissed Costner, an action Costner said was to retaliate against her for filing the lawsuit.
The Legislative Research Commission tried to block Bell from being added to the lawsuit, arguing there was not a “casual connection” between the events to include him in the lawsuit. But Wingate disagreed, ruling there was a “reasonable nexus” between the events “that have allegedly taken place.”
Bell’s attorney, Charles English, declined to comment, saying he would soon file a response in court.
Costner and another state worker, Cassaundra Cooper, first brought their sexual harassment allegations against Arnold in 2013, prompting Arnold to resign. The commission’s executive director retired soon after. The commission hired an attorney to investigate the allegations, who produced a detailed report that has not been made public.
Wingate has ordered the commission to give him the report and the accompanying investigative file so he could review it and decide if Costner and her attorney are entitled to see it.
Thomas Clay, Costner’s attorney, said the judge’s ruling was significant because it “brings all the parties before the court we wanted to be held accountable.”
The lawsuit has become a flashpoint in the House of Representatives, where Republicans have been trying to wrest control from the Democrats, who have an eight-seat majority. Earlier Wednesday, Republican state Senate President Robert Stivers referenced the lawsuit when talking about an ongoing dispute with the House Democratic leadership about whether the commission should hire a new executive director.
“I haven’t seen any lawsuits filed against us,” he said.
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