TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state Senate says it is immune from a federal investigation looking into a sexual harassment claim made by a female staffer.
Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January after a special master found she was sexually harassed by former state Sen. Jack Latvala.
Latvala resigned last December.
The complaint spurred an investigation into the Senate’s handling of the incident.
The state argued in federal court Friday that sovereign immunity protects it from the investigation.
“It's highly technical and nitpicking what they're doing,” said employment attorney Richard Johnson.
Johnson believes the state’s argument won't hold water.
He says the mere fact the state would try to absolve itself from responsibility is problematic.
“It's just not fair or decent for a governmental institution in a democratic society to try to be exempting itself, making itself unaccountable for discrimination and harassment,” said Johnson.
The hearing comes just after the Senate adopted new procedures for dealing with future sexual harassment claims.
Those, too, are drawing criticism from employment attorneys.
The most glaring issue, according to Johnson, is a new rule that would impose a gag order on senators, preventing them from discussing sexual harassment claims publicly.
“It's a club, and you know they're trying to take care of their own,” said Johnson. "You know and they're all worried about, What about the things that I've done? Are they going to come up someday?”
The federal judge postponed any ruling until at least Monday.
Regardless of what the judge decides, the final decision on the state’s case will likely end up in the hands of a federal appeals court.