Final report into harassment claims finds Leach did not violate federal law as leadership again calls for his resignation
Sen. Daylin Leach. (State photo)
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, is again calling on state Sen. Daylin Leach to resign.
The renewal came Thursday following the release of a final report into allegations of harassment against the Montgomery County Democrat, which found Leach made sexual and immature jokes but did not violate federal law.
“In the aggregate, the behavior outlined here rises to a level that should not be tolerated by anyone,” Costa said in a statement. “I continue to feel that this conduct is unacceptable and irresponsible; this caucus does not and will not condone this treatment of our staff or fellow members.”
The full investigation, initiated by Senate Democrats and conducted by law firm Eckert Seamans, does not include new allegations against Leach, which were outlined in a slideshow the firm showed Democratic leaders in June.
Investigators at the time found Leach committed “no actionable sexual harassment,” but did identify some “immature and unprofessional” behaviors that could lead to hostile work environment claims.
In a Facebook video, Leach called the report “fair” and “thoughtful.” He also apologized for “participating in off-color conversations and making off-color jokes” during his 2008 campaign.
But the 43-page report released Thursday does delve deeper into employment law standards and includes more details of interviews with two sitting Democratic senators from Montgomery County who say Leach has targeted them: Maria Collett and Katie Muth.
During Muth’s campaign for Senate, Leach called her “a dreadful person” and “a toxic hand grenade” after she refused to appear with him at an event. Both Collett and Muth allege in the report that Leach has bullied or been disrespectful toward women.
The report describes the behavior as reported by Collett and Muth to be “unprofessional and inappropriate,” but not a violation of federal law.
“The caucus may, however, interpret its policies to impose a broader standard than federal law but this is a policy decision that the caucus must decide for itself,” the report states.
The Eckert Seamans report makes four recommendations for Senate Democrats, including that members and staff “undergo annual interactive training in employment law issues related to sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims.”
“This is an inquiry bounded and informed by employment law,” the report concludes. “It is important to note that this represents a legal conclusion based on the facts that were available to us through voluntary interviews and not an endorsement of any individual’s behavior.”
The ‘narrow limits’ of the law
The investigation into Leach was launched in January 2019 after a woman named Cara Taylor began circulating an unsigned criminal complaint to members of the Senate. In it, she alleged that Leach sexually assaulted her in 1991 while he was representing her mother in a criminal case.
Leach denies the allegation and is suing Taylor, as well as two of her public supporters, for defamation.
Taylor’s allegations followed a 2017 Philadelphia Inquirer story in which “eight women and three men recounted instances when Leach either put his hands on women or steered conversations with young, female subordinates into sexual territory, leaving them feeling upset and powerless to stop the behavior.”
Nearly a third of the Eckert Seamans’ report deals with the scope of the investigation and explains the “narrow limits” of employment law.
In one instance, Leach admitted to calling a campaign staffer “thong girl,” as other members of his staff did.
“If — as he admitted — the senator was aware of the use of the ‘thong girl’ nickname, he should have acted to end the use of this nickname,” the report states. “But the use of the nickname in and of itself by staffers both male and female 11 years ago cannot form the basis of a sexual harassment claim under a quid pro quo, hostile work environment, or retaliation theory.”
Of the allegations examined in the report from Leach’s time as a member of the Senate, “we conclude that there is no evidence of actionable discrimination or harassment in violation of applicable law or Caucus policies to the extent Caucus policies are interpreted as consistent with federal law.”
Investigators did find that “Leach engaged in joking and humor that was immature and unprofessional” that could potentially create a hostile work environment.
“At no time did any such behavior actually create a hostile work environment under the circumstances presented here,” the report states. “However, if such behavior continues unabated, the risk for a future hostile work environment claim is present. Senator Leach has acknowledged a need to increase the level of professionalism within his office and has reported that he has taken steps to address such issues.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.