Missouri Senate report: Intern claims sexual harassment

AP News
Posted: Jul 22, 2015 6:03 PM
Missouri Senate report: Intern claims sexual harassment

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former Missouri legislative intern claims a Democratic state senator sexually harassed her, made what she felt was a request for sex and retaliated when she refused, according to a Senate report released Wednesday. The lawmaker denied any inappropriate behavior.

The report, which enumerated the intern's claims and drew no conclusions, says she claimed a pattern of sexual harassment that included "unwelcome text messages and explicit requests for sexual activity" from Democratic Sen. Paul LeVota.

LeVota, 47, of Independence, denied the allegations in the report and told The Associated Press he does not plan to resign.

"At no time did I act inappropriately, through text messages or in person, with this intern or anyone else," LeVota said in a statement. "I never asked her to do anything inappropriate; I never contacted her after hours, I never made sexual advances toward her, and neither I nor anyone on my staff ever retaliated against her in any way."

The investigation, which adds to a tumultuous year in Missouri politics, came after two University of Central Missouri students abruptly left an internship with LeVota partway through the last legislative session, which ended in May. Former Republican House Speaker John Diehl resigned on the same day session concluded after acknowledging that he had exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a 19-year-old Capitol intern.

While LeVota had previously said only that the Senate was investigating after his interns' departures, the report focused on an intern's sexual harassment complaint. It says the intern did not believe the senator committed a crime, "rather she would like to see some accountability for this conduct."

The report included findings submitted by attorney Jim Nowogrocki. He was selected by the Senate to help with an internal investigation after the University of Central Missouri notified the Senate that it was conducting its own review.

The intern said she spent the night at LeVota's Jefferson City duplex after drinking at a lobbyist event on Jan. 26. According to the report, LeVota told her twice that night, "if you want to sleep with me tonight, I won't tell you no." She said she considered that to be an explicit request for sex, declined it, and slept on the couch.

LeVota told investigators he did not make any sexual advances to the intern and that she never was in his duplex.

The intern also said she received texts from LeVota in January, including messages describing her as "perfect and beautiful" and questions about her weekend activities. The intern said she changed phones and did not have a copy of the texts. According to the report, LeVota denied sending the intern inappropriate messages and declined a "forensic examination" of his phone, citing privacy concerns.

After declining what she believed was the sexual advance, the intern said she no longer received assignments on proposed rape kit legislation and felt shunned at work.

The report said "it is difficult to objectively quantify a change in her work assignments" but that the intern said she had an "uncomfortable relationship" with LeVota thereafter.

LeVota said if there was evidence to support the allegations, the Senate report could have drawn a conclusion and "the Senate would have acted swiftly to impose appropriate actions."

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said that was beyond the responsibilities of the committee that oversaw the investigation, and does not believe the report clears LeVota of wrongdoing.

"There will be people who will look at the report and might draw different conclusions," Dempsey said. "It lacks the hard evidence that people would prefer to have when assessing innocence or guilt."

Dempsey and Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny both said they're not currently calling for LeVota's resignation. Keaveny said it would take a vote of three-quarters of the members of the Senate to expel LeVota from office.

LeVota, who is married and has two daughters, was elected to the Senate in 2012. Before that, he served in the House for a decade and was House minority leader from 2007 to 2010. He graduated from Central Missouri State University, now known as the University of Central Missouri.


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