By JULIET LINDERMAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokeswoman, according to an aide with knowledge of the settlement.
Lauren Greene is a former communications director in the congressman’s office. She alleged in a 2014 federal lawsuit that she was sexually harassed and fired soon after complaining of a hostile work environment. Farenthold said when the case was settled in 2015 that he didn’t engage in any wrongdoing.
The Office of Compliance on Friday released a report saying that since 2013, roughly about $360,000 has been paid out to resolve complaints against House offices. Only one settlement stemmed from a sexual harassment claim, amounting in $84,000.
An aide with knowledge of the settlement confirmed Friday that Farenthold is the lawmaker whose office paid the settlement. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to publicly discuss the agreement.
Farenthold’s office released a statement saying he can’t confirm or deny using a little-known congressional account to settle a sexual harassment claim. He says the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits him from answering the question.
According to Greene’s lawsuit, filed in 2014, a staffer told Greene that Farenthold had discussed his sexual fantasies about her. The lawsuit also said that the lawmaker said at a staff meeting that a lobbyist had propositioned him for a threesome, and that he repeatedly complimented Greene about her appearance, then joked that he hoped the comments wouldn’t be construed as sexual harassment.
The independent Office of Congressional Ethics investigated Greene’s claim, and recommended that the House Ethics Committee dismiss the allegations, “as there is not substantial reason to believe that Representative Farenthold sexually harassed or discriminated against complainant.”
Farenthold said he was prohibited from answering if the payment stemmed from the allegations against him.
AshLee Strong, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he spoke to Farenthold on Friday.
“The speaker has made clear any report of sexual harassment is deeply troubling, and those who feel mistreated or violated deserve to have their stories taken seriously,” Strong said. “In this instance, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics investigated this claim and unanimously voted to dismiss it. Still, there are important questions to answer, including the use of taxpayer dollars for settlements. We will continue our efforts to reform this settlement system.”
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.