Last month, the Sacramento Bee reported that the state had paid out over $25 million in the last three fiscal years to settle sexual harassment-related cases and most of it came from taxpayer money. According to state law, a public entity is required to defend an employee in a civil case over actions taken within the scope of his or her employment. However, the public entity may refuse to provide for the individual’s defense if the actions were not within the scope of the job, or he or she acted – or failed to act – because of fraud, corruption or actual malice. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office noted that the AG’s Office usually will represent the agency if there is a conflict between the agency and the individual defendant named in a lawsuit. The agency may then retain and pay for outside counsel for the accused worker, or decide not to defend the individual at all. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, told the Sacramento Bee,
This is the most disgusting use of taxpayer dollars we’ve ever seen. There is no way taxpayers should be on the hook for this.
Coupal believes that perpetrators should pay for their own misconduct in the workplace. According to the AG’s Office, however, it is “very rare” where individual defendants were assessed punitive damages that had to be paid out of their own pockets. Given the recent high profile misconduct scandals involving lawmakers, this issue has been getting a closer look. Last month, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) introduced Senate Bill 1750, which would require the Senate and Assembly to seek reimbursement for any sexual harassment settlements paid by the Legislature “when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing by a legislator.” We will have to wait and see if the bill passes and if there will be any more measures that will solve this issue.