Gov. Josh Shapiro declined to provide specifics when questioned by reporters about a harassment claim against former aide Mike Vereb during a press conference on Oct. 5, 2023. (Photo via Commonwealth Media Services)
Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office paid $295,000 in public money to settle an employee’s complaint that a longtime ally and top aide to Shapiro made improper, lewd and sexually charged remarks and that the administration’s handling of the situation forced her out of her job.
Shapiro’s office released the terms of the settlement, which was covered by a confidentiality agreement, in response to a records request under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law.
Former Legislative Affairs Secretary Mike Vereb resigned abruptly on Sept. 27 shortly before the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the details of a complaint the former employee filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in May.
She worked with Vereb in the governor’s office for a little more than a month before she was unable to return March 7. She alleged the office’s handling of her complaint about Vereb’s harassment constituted a constructive discharge.
The settlement resolves the PHRC case and requires the former employee to discontinue a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The state paid the former employee $196,366 and about $49,000 each to the woman’s two lawyers.
The woman and her lawyer signed the settlement on Aug. 31 and it was finalized by a mediator on Sept. 5. The Capital-Star is not naming the accuser because of the nature of the allegations.
Under terms of the settlement, the governor’s office does not admit liability for the woman’s claims. Additionally, the woman agrees to waive any future employment by the governor’s office but she would be permitted to work as a lobbyist to the office.
The settlement payment included about $45,000 from the governor’s office and $250,000 from the taxpayer-funded state Employee Liability Self Insurance Program.
In a statement, Shapiro spokesperson Manuel Bonder said parties in legal disputes often settle for reasons not related to the validity of the underlying claims.
“Litigation is expensive and can take years to resolve – and litigation outcomes are by their nature, uncertain. Cases frequently settle solely so that parties can avoid the tremendous expense of litigation, including the time, resources, and costs to litigate a case for a protracted period,” Bonder said.
Because of the time and costs involved, the PHRC and similar organizations have mediation programs in which they encourage parties to reach mutually agreeable settlements.
“No party is required to settle claims through mediation, but it is often in the best interest of both parties to do so,” Bonder said.
Since Vereb’s resignation, critics questioned Shapiro’s handling of the matter and called for review of the state’s policies for investigating sexual harassment complaints.
Shapiro drew more fire for what some called a dismissive remark to “consider the source” in response to a statement from Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) that it was unacceptable Vereb remained in his job until September.
Bonder said Shapiro’s comment was a reference to Ward’s record of refusing to allow a vote on legislation to give victims of childhood sexual abuse a window in which to seek legal compensation from their abusers, which Bonder said Shapiro finds unacceptable.
Vereb and Shaprio each represented a Montgomery County district in the state House, with overlapping terms from 2006 to 2011. Vereb later joined Shapiro’s staff in the attorney general’s office from 2017 until becoming a member of Shapiro’s cabinet in the governor’s office earlier this year.
The complaint, obtained by the Capital-Star, includes detailed allegations by the former employee of harassment that date back to February.
The woman, who the Capital-Star is not identifying because of the nature of her complaint, alleged that when she rejected Vereb’s advances and objected to his behavior, he retaliated by scheduling a meeting with human resources officials.
When she questioned Vereb about the nature of the meeting, he told her he had to “protect himself,” and made vague references to concerns about her job performance, according to the complaint.
The former employee reported Vereb’s statements and conduct to human resources officials, but was told no action would be taken until the conclusion of an investigation, the complaint alleges.
She was required to continue working closely with Vereb but was overcome by fear that she would be subject to further misogynistic conduct and retaliation and was unable to return to work, according to the complaint.
Vereb and the accuser have both declined to comment on the case.
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