Pa. Senate Democrats’ top campaign staffer suspended in the wake of sexual harassment complaint

The Capitol building in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

A top campaign official for state Senate Democrats has been suspended amid allegations of sexual harassment, the Capital-Star has learned. 

David Marshall, executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee — the political arm of the caucus that raises funds, recruits candidates, and directs campaigns to elect Democratic state senators to the General Assembly  — confirmed to the Capital-Star that he was temporarily suspended.

An attorney who specializes in employment law  will investigate the allegations, which Marshall denies.

In a Sept. 20 post published on the blogging website Medium, a woman named Miranda Cohen says that Marshall subjected her to “comments” and “touching” before “he locked me in his office and wouldn’t let me leave until I kissed him.” 

Cohen was asked to review the allegations, which she detailed in a formal workplace complaint, at the behest of a former colleague earlier this year, she writes in the post. 

“[Marshall] was my superior, it was my first week at this job, and I was shaken,” Cohen wrote. “I’m still shaking. Today I feel like that girl again, 19 and afraid, heart pounding, scared of what would happen if I didn’t comply. Scared of what would happen if I did.”

Marshall told the Capital-Star Tuesday that he “did not harass or assault Miranda Cohen in any way. And I am confident an investigation with show this.”

“I appreciate that [Senate Minority Leader Jay] Costa is taking the allegation seriously and is giving me my due process,” Marshall continued. 

When approached by a reporter in the Capitol, Costa, of Allegheny County, declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter.

Sen. Vincent Hughes, who chairs the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, said attorney Patricia Pierce will conduct an investigation into the allegations. He referred all other questions to Pierce.

“The allegations made on Medium.com are very disturbing,” the Philadelphia Democrat said in a statement. “Consequently, The SDCC has hired an attorney to investigate the allegation and will hopefully have those results shortly. In the meantime, David Marshall has been suspended from the SDCC pending the results of that investigation.”

In the Medium post, Cohen says she was interviewed by reporters about the allegations and expressed frustration that a story had not been published.

While not named in Cohen’s post, the Capital-Star has been conducting an investigation into the allegations after becoming independently aware of them in March 2019. The reporting is ongoing.

Cohen confirmed to the Capital-Star Tuesday that she authored the post. She declined to comment on Marshall’s statement. 

Sen. Katie Muth, D-Chester, and Sen. Tim Kearney, D-Delaware, told the Capital-Star Tuesday they were both informed of Marshall’s suspension. 

Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, told the Capital-Star she was unaware that Marshall was placed on leave, but said she had read Cohen’s Medium post. It was shared with her through a text message.

“The truth of it is, if that is at the hands of anyone — Democrat or Republican — no matter what their position is, then we need to hold people accountable,” she said. 

The allegation against Marshall comes shortly after Costa and other top Senate Democrats renewed their demands for the resignation of state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery. 

The firm Eckert Seamans conducted an investigation into harassment allegations levied against Leach and concluded he did not break any federal workplace laws, according to a final report released Friday. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, removed Leach from the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee at Costa’s request on Monday.

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