Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold settled a sexual harassment claim leveled against him by his former spokeswoman using taxpayer funds, according to numerous media reports.
Lauren Greene, who worked as the GOP congressman’s communications director for 18 months, sued Farenthold in December 2014 over allegations of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, news sources recently reported.
Greene’s lawsuit said another aide told her the congressman had “sexual fantasies” about her.
On one specific occasion, Farenthold told Greene that she had something on her skirt and that he hoped his comment wouldn’t be taken for sexual harassment, the complaint alleged.
Greene said she was “marginalized and undermined” when she complained about his behavior, and eventually fired. She filed a lawsuit that was ultimately settled privately.
On Dec. 1, House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) told Republican lawmakers that only one House office had used funds from an Office of Compliance account to reach a deal over a sexual harassment complaint. In that one case — apparently involving Farenthold — the settlement amounted to $84,000.
Farenthold’s payment to Greene was provided by the Office of Compliance, a little-known office that has received increased scrutiny since the issue of sexual harassment has gained prominence around the country and on Capitol Hill. The office was created nearly two decades ago after more than two dozen complaints of sexual harassment led to the resignation of Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore.
When a settlement is reached through the office, the victim is paid from a taxpayer-funded account. More than $17 million worth of payments have been made over the past 20 years for various workplace disputes, but it’s unknown — other than Farenthold’s $84,000 payment — how much of that has been for sexual harassment claims.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is not calling on Farenthold to step down.
“The speaker talked to Rep. Farenthold [earlier last week],” Ryan spokesperson AshLee Strong said in a statement. 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. 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.”
Although numerous calls to Farenthold’s office remained unreturned as of press time Monday, a statement released by Farenthold said, “While I 100 percent support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question.”