Spotlight PA is reporting that Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office quietly settled a sexual harassment case against top aide Mike Vereb in the weeks prior to Vereb’s resignation.
Reporter Angela Couloumbis wrote that the “settlement contains a clause that bars both sides from discussing the allegations, according to two sources familiar with the agreement. The sources were not authorized to publicly discuss the settlement and requested anonymity.”
The settlement agreement has created a cone of silence around the allegations and how they were handled by the Shapiro administration. Vereb resigned on September 27 after a copy of a complaint began to circulate around Harrisburg.
The 26-page complaint alleges three “counts” against the administration: hostile work environment, harassment and disparate treatment on the basis of the accuser’s sex, and retaliation.
“Respondent [Shapiro] knew or should have known that Vereb was prone to acts of workplace harassment, sexual misconduct, and related behaviors that could create a hostile, abusive threatening and/or intimidating workplace, but failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent such conduct in the workplace.”
The accuser’s lawyer, Chuck Pascal, said that “We cannot confirm the contents or authenticity of any alleged complaint, draft complaint or written statement alleged to be from the complainant which it is our understanding is in the possession of several members of the media. We also cannot at this time confirm the existence of any settlement, agreement, or other resolution of this matter.”
Manuel Bonder, Shapiro’s spokesperson, reiterated that the administration takes harassment and discrimination allegations seriously, and has “robust procedures” in place to promptly and thoroughly investigate them.
Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) released a statement last week that was critical of the Shapiro Administration for its handling of the allegations.
“The details of the sexual harassment complaint filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission against Gov. Shapiro’s Office are appalling,” she said. “Despite this being a personnel matter, the Governor’s office has offered official comments and conflicting information on the issue. This not only raises concerns related to their workplace practices, but also whether this matter has influenced our current unfinished budget situation, and how taxpayer funds are supporting this issue.
“The alleged offender remained in his influential role until he tendered his resignation leaving the victim in an unsafe space, to fend for herself, with limited options. This is unacceptable.”
When asked for a response days later, Shapiro said “First of all, I just say consider the source when it comes to the president pro tem. We have an independent, robust process. That is one where any employee should feel comfortable coming forward, and that their voice will be heard.”
The sexual harassment allegations have presented the most serious crisis to date for Shapiro, who built his reputation as a staunch advocate for survivors when he was state attorney general.
According to the story, taxpayer-underwritten settlements have been common in Pennsylvania over the years.
Between 2010 and 2019, state officials paid at least $3.2 million in taxpayer funds to resolve more than two dozen sexual harassment complaints against government and public employees.
And in 2015, Pennsylvania House Democrats spent nearly $250,000 in taxpayer money to secretly settle a sexual harassment complaint against one of the chamber’s longtime lawmakers. The settlement included a nondisclosure agreement.
Legislation was introduced in 2017 to bar nondisclosure agreements when settling civil claims of sexual assault and harassment, but the bill did not ultimately advance.