A judge has ordered two state agencies to turn over the names of employees accused of sexual harassment — whether or not the allegations were proven true.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd issued summary judgments Thursday in favor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting in two separate cases. The Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet and the Kentucky Labor Cabinet were each told to turn over the names of employees accused of sexual harassment after Shepherd determined the redactions were improper.
“Kentuckians have a right to know how government agencies are responding to sexual harassment and other serious problems, and these rulings reaffirm that,” said Stephen George, president of Louisville Public Media, KyCIR’s parent company. “This is a win for Kentucky citizens, and we’re proud to work on their behalf.”
KyCIR’s attorney, Michael Abate, argued that the names are public record and should be disclosed, regardless of whether an internal investigation concludes an allegation to be true. The state agencies argued that releasing the names of employees against whom allegations weren’t proven would be a violation of their privacy.
Shepherd ruled that allegations of workplace sexual misconduct, where employees are working on the clock and paid by tax dollars, must be seen as “presumptively public.”
“[T]he public has a right to know if the internal investigation was thorough, unbiased, and competent, or whether it was a ‘cover up’ of misconduct based on personal or political favoritism,” Shepherd wrote in his ruling on the Labor Cabinet.
The judge ordered the Labor Cabinet to turn over the name of an employee accused of sexual harassment in 2016 that was redacted in records given to KyCIR last year. A female employee complained that a coworker made inappropriate sexual comments, exposed himself and forcibly placed her hand on his genitals.
The accused employee denied the allegation.
“[T]here were no witnesses and you did not report any of these incidents,” wrote Lynn Keeling Gillis, assistant HR director for the cabinet. “There are no other corroborating facts to substantiate your allegations of sexual harassment.”
The cabinet closed the investigation and took no further action.
In Shepherd’s ruling against the Finance and Administration Cabinet, he ordered the agency to provide the names of accused employees as well as complainants, witnesses and others involved in investigations.
Public disclosure “also protects the individual state employees who may be subjected to sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination in the workplace by ensuring that complaints of such misconduct are thoroughly and fairly investigated,” Shepherd wrote.
In November, KyCIR requested six years of sexual harassment complaints and related documents from every state agency. Some agencies, like the Transportation Cabinet, provided the names of all who were accused and some who complained. Others, like the Labor and Finance and Administration cabinets, redacted much more.
KyCIR appealed to the Attorney General’s office, which ordered Labor to turn over the names of the accused, even in cases where the allegation was unsubstantiated. The attorney general ruled against the Finance and Administration Cabinet after it refused to provide the office with unredacted records for review. Both agencies sued KyCIR.
The agencies have 10 days to comply with Shepherd’s ruling. Neither agency immediately responded to request for comment Friday.
Eleanor Klibanoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (502) 814.6544.