UPDATE: Oklahoma Speaker-Elect To Investigate Sexual Harassment Settlement
The Speaker-elect of the Oklahoma House of Representatives has announced plans for an investigation into a payment to settle a sexual harassment complaint by a former legislative assistant.
Updated 1:23 p.m.
State Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, announced Thursday his first action after officially becoming Speaker will be to authorize an investigation into the wrongful termination settlement agreement paid to Hollie Bishop, who was fired in November 2015 after less than a year working for state Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa.
McCall said the bipartisan House Ethics Committee will have special authority to investigate the settlement.
"There is simply no excuse for sexual harassment by lawmakers at the Capitol," McCall said in a statement. "Voters have given us the privilege of representing them, and it is a high honor with special duties attached. Workplace misconduct by lawmakers will simply not be tolerated under my leadership"
The announcement came just minutes after Oklahoma Democratic Party leaders requested more information into the $44,500 payment made to the legislative assistant and her attorneys in November 2015.
"If there is merit to the allegation of sexual harassment, why are the taxpayers paying a sexual harassment claim?" Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Mark Hammons asked during a Thursday morning news conference. "If there is not merit to it, why are we spending money when there is no legal basis for liability?"
Following the claim, former House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, authorized the payment, saying it was cheaper than attorney fees and a lengthy litigation process. At Thursday's press conference Hammons questioned Hickman's ability to make the payment.
"Since when does the Speaker of the House have the authority to reach down and take money out himself and just use it however he wants?" Hammons said.
State Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said the public deserves more answers.
The un-resigning of Rep. Kirby is further evidence that the entire situation was mishandled. Public deserves to know all the facts.— Emily Virgin (@EmilyVirginOK) December 29, 2016
Other state Democratic leaders say they will consider a civil lawsuit or request a criminal investigation if they don't receive the information requested.
Updated Dec. 29, 8:15 a.m.
State Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, said in a letter to House Speaker Charles McCall his decision to resign "was hasty and based upon bad advice." He confirmed to The Tulsa World’s Barbara Hoberock he now does not plan to resign.
Jason Sutton, a spokesman for McCall, said McCall had not spoken with Kirby. McCall’s office had only received the fax, Sutton said. Michael McNutt, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, confirmed that the Governor’s Office also received a similar notice by fax.
Kirby also says his resignation didn't follow state law that requires it be made to the governor if the Legislature isn't in session.
Gov. Mary Fallin's spokesman Michael McNutt says Fallin didn't receive the resignation letter that went to McCall.
Just days after he became the center of sexual harassment allegations and revelations the Oklahoma House paid a $44,500 settlement to a former legislative assistant, state Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, resigned Friday night.
Kirby sent a letter to incoming House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, saying his departure would be in the best interest of his Tulsa district, and remaining in office would be a distraction.
"I believe that a resignation is in the best interest of the district, the House of Representatives and the state of Oklahoma,” Kirby wrote.
On Wednesday, The Oklahoman reported the House used state funds to pay the settlement to Hollie Bishop and her attorneys. In an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filing, Bishop said the harassment began shortly after she started working in Kirby’s office in January 2015. She claims she was fired by the House in November 2015 for reporting the mistreatment.
House attorneys issued a statement Friday saying Kirby wasn’t aware of the settlement over the complaint. Courtney Warmington says former House Speaker Jeff Hickman authorized the payment. Hickman spoke with The Oklahoman’s Nolan Clay by phone from Colorado Thursday night, where he was skiing with his family, and said settling the complaint was less costly than attorney fees and a lengthy litigation process.
Friday morning House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, called for a full investigation, but did not call for Kirby to resign.
“Due to the concerning nature of the allegations involved and the subsequent utilization of tax payer funds to settle them, I am requesting the House authorize an independent investigation into the matter to include, but not limited to, requesting an audit of our House finances from State Auditor, Gary Jones,” Inman’s letter said. “My caucus believes an independent audit and investigation is necessary to ensure transparency and reassure the citizens of Oklahoma that this is just an isolated incident.”
Inman’s letter raised 21 questions he hoped McCall would be able to answer, and he also requested details about a recent sexual harassment seminar House Republicans attended.
1) When did the alleged conduct occur and for what duration?
2) Prior to the filing of a complaint, was the conduct ever brought to the attention of House Leadership or legal staff? If so, when?
3) Did the House of Representatives ever attempt to resolve the matter by relocating Ms. Bishop to another office or member?
4) Was Rep. Kirby the only State Representative involved in the alleged misconduct?
5) To what end, if any, was Rep. Randy Grau involved with the matter and/or the legislative assistant?
6) Did the House of Representatives initiate an independent investigation into the matter? If so, when and by whom was it authorized? If not, why not? And who made that decision?
7) If an investigation was initiated, what were the ultimate findings?
8) Was this matter ever submitted to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission for investigation?
9) Who negotiated the settlement agreement on behalf of the Oklahoma House and at whose request?
10) By what legal authority was such a payment justified?
11) Please provide a detailed accounting of the costs and fees incurred by the House of Representatives because of this matter and paid to outside counsel, Courtney Warmington.
12) Why was outside counsel utilized for this personnel matter instead of using the services of our House general counsel?
13) Under what budgetary line item can those payments to Courtney Warmington be found?
14) Please explain the justification behind allocating more than $16,000 of legal payments to Ms. Bishop’s attorneys under the budgetary line item of housekeeping and cleaning supplies.
15) By what legal authority can the House of Representatives indemnify Rep. Kirby for his alleged misconduct outside the scope of his authority?
16) Assuming the House of Representatives would not have used taxpayer funds to pay a baseless claim against a member of the Republican caucus, has any course of disciplinary action been taken against Rep. Kirby in the form of sanctions, censure, removal, or impeachment? If not, are any such actions under consideration?
17) Has Rep. Kirby been asked to repay the Oklahoma taxpayers for the costs they have incurred because of his alleged misconduct outside the scope of his authority?
18) If a reservation of rights letter has been issued to Rep. Kirby, would you please provide a copy of it to my office?
19) Please provide a copy of any tort claim received by the House of Representatives.
20) Please provide a copy of any statement concerning these allegations provided to the House of Representatives by Ms. Bishop.
21) Have any other allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment been brought by members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives staff against sitting or former members of the legislature at any time in the last twelve years?