HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday he wants to see changes in a state government self-insurance program that funded a quarter-million-dollar settlement over sexual harassment allegations against a state lawmaker.
Wolf, a Democrat, said he learned this week about the settlement with and payment to a former legislative assistant to Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks.
Wolf said he wants to prevent using the fund for cases of abusive behavior by elected officials and ordered the Department of General Services to change it.
"Sexual harassment victims deserve protection and elected officials who engage in such awful behavior do not," said Wolf press secretary J.J. Abbott. "He also does not think the program should cover the liability of nonexecutive branch employees."
His comments came a day after The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported that Pennsylvania taxpayers funded the 2015 payment. Wolf on Tuesday urged Caltagirone to resign.
The details of the allegations against Caltagirone, 75, have not been made public, and the veteran legislator has not returned messages seeking comment.
It's also unclear how many other settlements have been made through the employee liability self-insurance program, which requires agencies — and both chambers of the Legislature — to pay into it based on how many employees they have and their level of assessed risk.
The General Services department said Wednesday that its Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, which oversees the fund, does not get involved in litigation or handling complaints. It determines if a claim is eligible after settlement terms have been negotiated.
A General Services spokesman said a typical claim under the fund would involve a Transportation Department project or damage involving vehicles.
In the matter involving Caltagirone's former aide, House Democratic caucus chief counsel Nora Winkelman told General Services the woman had initially made a $1.5 million claim for "a complaint of discrimination, among other things" under a federal law that bans discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
The agency agreed to pay the woman, described as a legislative assistant in Caltagirone's district office, about $165,000 and her lawyer $82,500. They have both declined comment.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, revealed Tuesday that since 2007 his caucus has agreed to pay out $514,000 to settle claims. He said two were for sexual harassment claims against two members, and five involved other types of employment matters.
The state's elected fiscal watchdog, Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, said he was outraged that the total amount was just now becoming public.
"Taxpayer money should never be used to settle sexual harassment claims against an elected official," said DePasquale, who formerly represented York in the House. "As a former legislator, I know that many members, including myself, were unaware that these payments were made. We need to put a stop to it."