Rep. Blake Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokesman — the only known sitting member of Congress to have used a little-known congressional account to pay an accuser, people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
Lauren Greene, the Texas Republican’s former communications director, sued her boss in December 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
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Greene said another Farenthold aide told her the lawmaker said he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about Greene. She also claimed that Farenthold “regularly drank to excess” and told her in February 2014 that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.”
When she complained about comments Farenthold and a male staffer made to her, Greene said the congressman improperly fired her. She filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, but the case was later dropped after both parties reached a private settlement.
No information was ever released on that agreement.
House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) told GOP lawmakers in a closed-door Friday morning meeting that only one House office in the past five years had used an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Harper said in that one instance, the settlement totaled $84,000.
In a statement for this story, Farenthold would neither confirm or deny that his office was responsible for that $84,000 payout.
“While I 100% 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,” Farenthold said in a statement.
Greene’s lawyer, Les Alderman of Alderman, Devorsetz & Hora PLLC, also would not say whether Greene was the woman who received the $84,000 Harper referred to.
But in a joint statement both Greene and Farenthold prepared at the time of the settlement but never released — a copy of which was shared with POLITICO by Alderman on Friday — the two confirmed they reached a deal in part to save taxpayer dollars.
“[A]fter it became clear that further litigating this case would come at great expense to all involved — including the taxpayers — the parties engaged in mediation with a court-appointed mediator,” the statement read. “After extensive discussion and consideration, the parties jointly agreed to accept the solution proposed by the mediator.”
The statement added: “The parties believe that the mediator’s solution saves the parties, and the taxpayers, significant sums that would be expended in further discovery and/or trial.”
The statement also states that Farenthold “disagrees strongly” with his client’s allegations and “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing.” It says the settlement included a confidentiality agreement that precludes Greene and Farenthold from discussing the case and “expressly provides that both parties deny all liability.”
The Office of Congressional Ethics also investigated Greene’s allegations. In a letter to the House Ethics Committee the watchdog said “there is not substantial reason to believe that Representative Farenthold sexually harassed or discriminated against [ex-staffer Lauren Greene], or engaged in an effort to intimidate, take reprisal against, or discriminate against [Greene] for opposing such treatment, in violation of House rules and federal law.”
It was unclear Friday afternoon whether the discovery would have political ramifications for Farenthold, who rode the Tea Party wave to Congress in 2010. The 55-year-old hails from the the southeast corner of Texas, a safe area for Republicans.
However, a federal panel ruled over the summer that the district was drawn primarily based on race and violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Farenthold has said he would seek reelection, despite the fact that the make-up of his district may soon change and include more Democratic areas.
The filing deadline for someone to challenge Farenthold is Dec. 11.
Even if he isn’t challenged, Farenthold is likely to face repercussions from fellow House Republicans for using taxpayer money to settle a harassment claim. Recent reports, including in POLITICO, revealed that $17 million has been paid out quietly to settle workplace disputes.
Harper said Friday that only $360,000 of that total involved a House office.
That, however, won’t stem demands from conservatives that members who have been part of such settlements use their own personal money to reimburse the treasury.
Farenthold has a minimum net worth of $2.4 million, according to his most recent financial disclosure form.
Farenthold, a graduate of St. Mary’s University School of Law, practice law for several years after college. He also worked as a radio disc jockey while in school. He later founded a web design and consulting firm before running for Congress.
Greene came to Capitol Hill as an intern in 2009, and was later promoted to full time in the office of ex-Rep. John Sullivan (R-Oak.). In early 2013, she moved to Farenthold’s office, where she stayed for 18 months before her July 2014 firing.
According to Greene’s complaint in court, Farenthold and his top aide, Bob Haueter, sexually harassed her, allegations that both men vehemently denied.
“Farenthold regularly drank to excess, and because of his tendency to flirt, the staffers who accompanied him to Capitol Hill functions would joke that they had to be on ‘red head patrol to keep him out of trouble,’” Greene’s complaint alleged. “On one occasion, prior to February 2014, during a staff meeting at which [Greene] was in attendance, Farenthold disclosed that a female lobbyist had propositioned him for a ‘threesome.’”
The complaint added: “On June 10, 2014, in response to Haueter’s complaint about [Greene’s] shirt … which Haueter claimed was transparent and showed [Greene’s] nipples, Farenthold told [another woman staffer] that [Greene] could show her nipples whenever she wanted to,” Greene’s complaint asserted.
Greene said Farenthold avoided meeting one-on-one with her, and she also felt awkward about meeting with Farenthold.
When Greene complained to Farenthold directly in June 2014 about her problems with Haueter, she was “marginalized and undermined” by the Texas Republican, and then fired several weeks later, Greene asserted.
Greene took the mater to the Office of Compliance, which handles workplace disputes. She went through a month of mandatory counseling and mediation before filing suit.
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.