INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal appeals court has ruled the women who claimed Indiana’s former attorney general drunkenly groped them cannot pursue a lawsuit against the state government under federal sexual harassment laws.
The Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said in a decision issued Wednesday that the women worked for Indiana’s legislative branch as House or Senate staffers and upheld a lower court judge’s ruling that state government as a whole and then-Attorney General Curtis Hill had no employment authority over them despite his elected position as the state’s top lawyer.
The three female staffers filed the lawsuit alleging that the Republican attorney general inappropriately touched their backs or buttocks and made unwelcome sexual comments during a 2018 party at an Indianapolis bar.
Hill has denied wrongdoing but the state Supreme Court ordered a 30-day suspension of his law license after finding “by clear and convincing evidence that (Hill) committed the criminal act of battery” against the women and then-state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, a Munster Democrat.
Lawyers for the women argued before the appeals court in December that dismissing the state from the lawsuit would create a “loophole” allowing it to avoid responsibility.
The lawsuit remains pending against the Indiana House and Senate and the appeals court ruling said those entities were the women’s employers.
“Plaintiffs protest that the House and Senate are not the Attorney General’s employer and can’t control him — but the statute requires people to sue their own employers, not someone else’s,” the ruling said. “Many decisions say that an employer can be liable for failing to protect employees from discrimination by third parties, such as customers, even when the employer cannot directly control those third parties.”
The Indianapolis law firm representing the women declined to comment Thursday on the appeals court decision.
Hill faces a separate lawsuit filed by the women in Marion County court, seeking unspecified monetary damages against Hill on claims that he committed battery against them and defamed them with repeated statements that their allegations were false. Trial is scheduled for September.
The groping allegations were key campaign issue against Hill when he lost the 2020 Republican attorney general nomination for his reelection to Todd Rokita, who took office in January 2021.