PARIS (Reuters) - Two French women are filing legal complaints against a junior government minister they accuse of sexual harassment, apparently encouraged to speak up after the recent arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sex crime charges.
Gilbert Collard, lawyer for the women, said he had submitted the complaints against Georges Tron, the civil service minister, to a public prosecutor this week and he confirmed to Reuters the accusation was sexual harassment.
Tron's lawyer, Olivier Schnerb, dismissed the complaints and said he had been instructed to respond by filing a defamation complaint in return.
Tron, who was quoted by Le Parisien daily as saying the accusations were "incredible," told Reuters he had informed Prime Minister Francois Fillon about the matter and said the plaintiffs were women who had been dismissed from their town hall posts in Draveil, just south of Paris, where Tron is mayor.
"The complaint was sent by mail on Monday and reiterated by the plaintiffs this morning," Collard said.
One of the women described the reasons for her complaint in an interview, under a false name, in Le Parisien.
She said the minister touched her inappropriately on various occasions during a two-year stint at Draveil town hall, where she worked for a time on the reception desk of Tron's office.
She said she felt encouraged to break her silence after former IMF chief Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with attempted rape on the basis of the accusations of a New York hotel maid in a case that has gripped France and the world.
"When I see that a little chambermaid is capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I tell myself I do not have the right to stay silent," said the woman, whom the newspaper called Laura, adding that this was not her real name.
Strauss-Kahn, who was favorite to win next year's French presidential election, was arrested in New York on May 14 and has been charged with attempting to rape a Sofitel hotel maid, charges he has denied and vowed to fight.
The arrest has triggered soul-searching and debate in France about tolerance of sexual harassment and media reluctance to pursue and highlight such issues more aggressively.
In his comments to Le Parisien, Tron suggested the complaint against him was motivated by vengeance and also spoke of a link to a local dispute over a property development, adding that the two women were connected to people from the political far-right who were involved in that dispute.
The two women had been dismissed from their town hall jobs following disciplinary procedures, he told the newspaper, which added that he refused to comment on the substance of the accusations made against him.
(Reporting by Gerard Bon, Emmanuel Jarry and Marc Angrand; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Matthew Jones)