- George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Taxpayers spent $220,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit that involved U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call reported Friday night.
Hastings, who has denied the claims in the suit, said he did not know of the settlement until Friday night and is “outraged” by it.
Winsome Packer, a staffer on the congressional Helsinki Commission that Hastings once chaired, filed a lawsuit in 2011 against Hastings and the commission, which is officially known as the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. A federal judge dismissed the claims against Hastings — but not the commission — in 2012.
The House Ethics Committee also cleared Hastings of sexual harassment in 2014.
Hastings told The Palm Beach Post he was not involved in the settlement.
“Until this evening, I had not seen the settlement agreement between the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Ms. Packer,” Hastings said in a statement sent to The Palm Beach Post. “This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made. The lawsuit that Ms. Packer filed against me was dismissed on February 14, 2012, just as the House Committee on Ethics investigation was also dismissed on December 11, 2014. I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid to Ms. Packer.”
Packer claimed she was forced to endure unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments and unwanted touching from Hastings while he was chairman of the commission. She also claimed that Hastings retaliated against her after she complained.
Hastings at the time called the allegations “ridiculous, bizarre (and) frivolous” and accused Packer of trying to promote a self-published novel dealing with sexual harassment and other topics.
The Post reported in 2012 that a judge dismissed the harassment and retaliation counts against Hastings as an individual, but other counts of Packer’s lawsuit accusing the commission of sex discrimination and retaliation were not dismissed. Court documents show Packer and the commission agreed to end the lawsuit in 2014.
Although Hastings was cleared by the Ethics Committee, its report said Hastings “admitted to certain conduct that is less than professional.”
Hastings “hugs many people frequently,” the report said, and while a hug “on its own, is not sexual harassment … hugging is not the most professional way to greet coworkers, and different individuals have different comfort levels for touching others.”
The ethics report also said Hastings showed “poor judgment” when he admitted to comments “about not being able to sleep after sex, and another about female Members of Congress wearing the same underwear all day.”