New Questions About Harassment in TN Legislature

Posted at 5:54 AM, Sep 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-28 23:50:37-04

Republican Rep. Bill Spivey (R) Lewisburg, has called for an investigation into how Speaker Beth Harwell handled a harrasment claim in her office.

An employee in Harwell's office claimed she was emotionally and mentally abused nearly two years ago, and when she complained she was offered a demotion according to documents released by Representative Spivey

A female employee in Harwell's office claimed House Clerk Joe McCord raised his middle finger toward her two year old granddaughter and said "you better remember this." She also claimed McCord called her inappropriate names.

Democratic lawmakers said the incident highlights a culture of inappropriate behavior in the legislature -- pointing to the expulsion of Republican Representative Jeremy Durham as the prime example.

The attorney general accused him of harassing 22 women.

"This is just another in the string of disrespecting staff, sexually assaulting staff," said Rep. Sherry Jones (D) Nashville.

But members of the Black Caucus were also concerned by a part of the internal investigation that indicated the woman in Harwell's office was told she could move offices and work for a member of the Black Caucus.

According to the report - that would have been a demotion and pay cut.

"I've been mad before, but I am thoroughly incensed today," said Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D) Memphis.
Black Caucus members held a news conference and said they didn't know pay was different in their office and claimed the employee was threatened to keep quiet.

"We're going to send you over there with those black folk if you don't act right and we're going to cut your pay and demote you," Rep. Hardaway said.

Speaker Harwell released a statement today blasting fellow Republican Billy Spivey saying he didn't have his facts right and she takes every claim of harassment seriously.

She went on to say Spivey supported Durham and he is retaliating -- because Harwell wanted him expelled.
It appears no action was taken against Joe McCord after this investigation was finished.

Investigators say the woman was satisfied by the final result, but won't say how it was resolved.

Harwell has released the following statement: 

“It is no secret that Representative Spivey is a long-time defender of Jeremy Durham’s and is upset about his expulsion at the special session--which Rep. Spivey failed to attend. Rep. Spivey did not want the Attorney General's report on Durham released to the public and would not sign off on the report. Just as Durham lashed out last week at those who expelled him, his supporters--including Rep. Spivey--are doing the same this week.

It is irresponsible for Rep. Spivey to involve himself in something without verifying the facts and in harassing our employees by releasing an inaccurate compilation of events. It is disrespectful for him to attempt to play political football with our state employees and their jobs, all because he personally disagreed with Jeremy Durham's expulsion.

I take all allegations of harassment seriously. Personnel issues are always handled by Legislative Administration in a professional manner, and they seek to reach a satisfactory conclusion for all parties. Our legislative staff does an outstanding job for every one of our members, and I sincerely appreciate the work they do." 

NewsChannel 5 has also reached out to Rep. Spivey for comment.