A lawsuit accuses Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler of sexually harassing a female employee, saying he propositioned the woman multiple times over a decade. She describes a “sexually hostile and abusive working environment” in the suit, filed Thursday (Feb. 22) in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.
After she rebuffed his advances, she was transferred to jobs she described as objectionable, according to the court complaint. She has worked for the department since 2004 and alleges the harassment began in 2007, when Schedler, 68, was first assistant to then-Secretary of State Jay Dardenne.
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune does not typically name persons who identify themselves as victims of sexual abuse or harassment.
In a written response Thursday, Schedler said he had not yet seen the lawsuit but takes “any allegation of sexual harassment very seriously.”
“…As the father of three grown daughters and three granddaughters I can assure the public that I believe in a safe workplace, free from harassment, and will continue my record of transparency with my constituents,” Schedler said. His statement also indicated he and his wife have been estranged for some time.
The lawsuit said Schedler “engaged in a pattern and practice of sexual harassment and retaliatory harassment” against the woman. After a series of job reassignments the lawsuit describes as “undesirable,” he secured her transfer back to his office in 2014 “under the guise that he was no longer angry with her and that he again wanted to be ‘friends’ with her.”
The suit says Schedler resumed his advances toward the woman, including text and email messages, and cards “that became more sexual.” The behavior persisted until the woman and her attorney, Jill Craft, notified the governor’s office in August 2017, the lawsuit said. The woman still works for the Secretary of State but no longer directly for Schedler. He is still “obviously in her chain of command,” Craft said Thursday.
The lawsuit says Schedler’s pursuit of the woman began when he bought a townhome in the same complex as her and, after moving in, made numerous comments to her that he was watching her while she was at home.
The woman declined Schedler’s invitations to dinners and events, according to the lawsuit. But she did accompany him on a trip to Sedona, Ariz., before which she “made it clear to defendant she was not interested in him sexually and that the trip was solely for friends — nothing else.” The woman’s attorney said Schedler told her client at the time he was going to Arizona to look at voting machines, Craft said, “but he ended up doing that on a later trip.” Once in Arizona, the woman said Schedler booked only one room, claiming the hotel made a mistake, the lawsuit said.
The incidents laid out in the court petition indicate Schedler sent the woman a Valentine’s card in 2009, entitled “I’m not interested in a nice, normal relationship!” after she made it known she wanted to be left alone. It was addressed to “My Dearest Sunshine” and was signed “With my deepest thoughts, emotions and yes love in a very different way I remain your Sunshine for as long as you let my light in.”
Schedler is also alleged to have taken the woman’s cellphone from her to look through her contacts, followed her to see who she was meeting and searched for records on her boyfriend’s license plate. Information about the boyfriend and his place of employment was left on Schedler’s desk for the woman to see, the lawsuit said.
In his statement Thursday, Schedler mentioned that he and his wife “have been living apart for a long time.”
“… Our friends and family have known of our personal status and have lovingly supported our decision. We still very much respect one another and are fully committed to sharing in family events with our children and grandchildren as often as possible. While I understand that my service as a public official opens my private life to outside scrutiny, I’ve found support from others who have experienced similar marital issues in their personal life and can empathize,” Schedler said.
After news of the lawsuit went public, the Louisiana Democratic Party issued a statement from executive director Stephen Handwerk:
“Secretary of State Schedler either needs to clear his name or step down. It’s deeply troubling that he isn’t denying the allegations and is still holding his position,” Handwerk said. “This is beyond party politics. We hope that by morning the Republican leaders of our state have strongly condemned these despicable actions and that the only reason they haven’t already is because they have their heads down working on budget compromises.”
State lawmakers are currently in a special session to address the state’s impending budget gap.
Before joining the Secretary of State’s office, Schedler served as a state senator representing the North Shore from 1996 to 2008. He was previously a member of the Slidell City Council.
The lawsuit has been assigned to 19th District Judge Judge Tim Kelley.
– Emily Lane contributed to this story.