POLITICS

Louisiana Secretary Of State Resigns After Staffer Accuses Him Of Sexual Harassment

His former executive secretary accused him of making repeated advances and then banishing her to a do-nothing job when she refused.

Louisiana’s top election official resigned Tuesday amid a lawsuit from one of his staffers accusing him of sexual harassment.

The announcement was a reversal for Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R), who previously refused to resign and said in March it would be “cowardly” to do so after the allegations were first made.

Dawn Ross, who was an assistant to Schedler but now works in the secretary of state’s office in a reduced role, filed a lawsuit in state court in February accusing him of engaging “in a pattern and practice of sexual harassment and retaliatory harassment” for nearly a decade. After hiring her as his executive secretary in 2011, she said in the suit, he made repeated passes at her, including coming to her home with love letters, cards and sex tapes. Ross also alleged that Schedler, a former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, repeatedly implored her to join him for meals and trips.

Ross claims that Schedler retaliated when she rebuffed his advances by ordering that she stay out of his sight, sending her to work in a separate building and stripping her of all job responsibilities. She says she was even forbidden from eating with other employees so that she wouldn’t risk being seen by Schedler.

In March, Schedler, who has been secretary of state since 2010, said he would not resign but wouldn’t seek re-election in 2019. He said he had a consensual sexual relationship with Ross, which Ross denies, and that he would fight the allegations. But after calls for his resignation grew, Schedler resigned Tuesday.

I leave office with a heavy heart knowing I have disappointed the people in my life who care for me the most. But I also have experienced from them the miraculous power of forgiveness and grace during the twilight of my career, and for that I am grateful,” he wrote in his resignation letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), who had called on him to step down. “I have been incredibly frustrated with the tabloid approach to an incredibly serious allegation and the necessity of following the advice of counsel not to try this publicly. I trust the judicial process will fairly consider all the facts when they can be properly presented in due time.”

Schedler, 68, who is married, said his resignation would take effect May 8.

Ross, who is in her 50s, was surprised by Schedler’s sudden resignation, according to Jill Craft, her attorney. Craft said Ross’s decision to keep numerous letters, cards and other messages Schedler allegedly sent her helped rebut what Schedler said publicly.

Craft provided HuffPost with a sampling of the cards Ross alleged Schedler sent her. On the front of one of the cards is a man standing under mistletoe with the word “yes.” On the other half of the card is a picture of the same man with the mistletoe over his groin that says “no.” “Well here’s another tradition that I bet you forgot and a very naughty one at that!” Schedler allegedly wrote in the card. “Something to moderate even the most boring of nights even after St. Nick is on his way! Make you hot into night!”

It took a tremendous amount of courage for her to stand up, especially given that the defendant is a statewide elected official,” Craft said in an email. “Although he has claimed he had a ‘consensual’ relationship with Ms. Ross, not only does she vehemently deny that claim, but many of the written communications he sent her verify she repeatedly rebuffed his advances and told him ‘no.’”

Schedler’s office redacted many of the emails between Ross and Schedler provided to HuffPost in a public records request, saying that they were “of a purely personal nature.” The Advocate obtained unredacted copies of some of the messages and reported they contained sexually suggestive messages from Schedler, including one in which he said he wanted to “undress” Ross with his mind.

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