Louisiana Has Spent $1.3M To Settle Sexual Harassment Claims

Payments range from $5,500 involving a professor at Grambling State University to $205,000 for two claims against a New Orleans civil court judge.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana has paid at least $1.3 million to settle more than two dozen sexual harassment claims since mid-2009, including allegations made against college professors, judges, health care workers and one former state lawmaker, according to records released Friday.

The money was paid through Louisiana's self-insurance program, the Office of Risk Management, and covers claims made across all three branches of state government. Data involving the 27 payments was provided to The Associated Press and other news outlets in response to public records requests.

Payments range from $5,500 for a sexual harassment claim involving a professor at Grambling State University to $205,000 for two claims against a New Orleans civil court judge. A former commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control was the subject of two payments totaling $150,000.

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Dollars were paid involving claims against a custodian supervisor at a state-owned safety-net hospital, the director of a state juvenile prison facility, a probation and parole supervisor, and a state park manager.

A $50,000 payment was made in 2012 to settle a claim against then-state Rep. Clif Richardson, a Republican lawmaker from the Baton Rouge area who resigned in 2013 citing health problems related to a cancer diagnosis. Richardson did not respond to a telephone message left by the AP on Friday. But the ex-legislator told The Advocate that he had repeated a joke of a sexual nature to an aide who took offense and he didn't feel up to fighting the allegations because of cancer treatment.

The list of payments provided by the Office of Risk Management doesn't include details of the conduct alleged, the person making the allegations, or what if anything was proved. It wasn't immediately clear if any of those accused of sexual harassment still worked in the positions or elsewhere in government.

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In the past few months, sexual misconduct accusations have unseated people in positions of power in Hollywood, the media and government. In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards' deputy chief of staff, Johnny Anderson, stepped down in November after sexual misconduct claims were made against him. The governor's office hasn't said what the allegations were and has hired an attorney, in case the woman who accused Anderson of harassment files a lawsuit.

Anderson had previously been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women in 2006 when he worked for then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco and was chairman of the Southern University System Board of Supervisors.

Anderson has denied wrongdoing.

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Anderson's resignation — and the broader national conversation about sexual misconduct — spurred multiple reviews of Louisiana's policies for handling claims. Edwards has created a seven-member study group to make recommendations by March 1. Louisiana's legislative auditor is conducting his own review.

Release of the data came the same day the Southern University System announced it has put one of its administrators on leave because of sexual misconduct allegations.

The higher education system said associate vice president for human resources Lester Pourciau was placed on administrative leave Thursday. Southern said it received a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from a former employee with accusations that were "sexual in nature." An investigation is ongoing. Pourciau did not respond immediately to a telephone message seeking comment.

"Every employee and student has the right to a safe, positive working and learning environment," Southern System President Ray Belton said in a statement. "We will do everything in our power to ensure such."

-By Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

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