Declaring that he has “never sexually harassed anyone,” Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., said Monday he will defeat a lawsuit filed against him by a female staffer of the Helsinki Commission, an independent government panel on which he sits as a House-appointed commissioner.
“That is a certainty: In a race with a lie, the truth always wins. And when the truth comes to light and the personal agendas of my accusers are exposed, I will be vindicated,” said the 74-year-old member, first elected to Congress in 1992.
The lawsuit against Hastings was filed Monday in U.S. District Court on behalf of the commission staffer, Winsome Packer, by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal advocacy and watchdog group that has a history of legal action against Democrats, including previous run-ins with Hastings.
Packer is described in the complaint as a policy adviser for the commission who had been a Republican staff member for the House Committee on Homeland Security, but lost that job after Democrats took control of the House in the 2006 midterm elections.
Looking for work, and at the suggestion of Hastings, Packer was hired in 2007 as a staffer at the commission, known officially as the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which advises on U.S. policy about security, human rights and other international issues involving Europe.
Packer was to serve as the commission’s staff representative in Vienna, Austria, where the lawsuit alleges that much of the harassment from Hastings occurred. It states that from January 2008 to February 19, 2010, Packer became subjected to “unwelcome sexual advances,” and “unwelcome touching,” from the Florida Democrat, who during that period was still serving as chairman, and then co-chairman, of the commission.
The claims include his making demands that Packer allow Hastings to stay in her apartment while she served as the commission’s lead staff representative in Vienna; subjecting her to hugging; inviting her on multiple occasions to accompany him alone to his hotel room; and posing inappropriate questions in public, such as “What kind of underwear are you wearing?” Along with Hastings and the commission itself, the lawsuit also names as a defendant Fred Turner, the commission’s former staff director. It states that Packer repeatedly complained about the alleged harassment to Turner, but the sexual harassment from Hastings did not stop.
“Rather, Mr. Hastings and Mr. Turner began to retaliate against Ms. Packer—including making threats of termination—because she continued to object to Mr. Hastings’ conduct,” the lawsuit claims. Packer was vulnerable to such threats, states the complaint, because she was a Republican working for the then-Democratic controlled commission.
At one point—after complaining to other officials, including aides to Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., who was the other commission co-chairman—the complaint states that Hastings allegedly scolded her for not being a “sport” and for rejecting him after he had “come to [her] as a man does a woman.” As a result of the alleged actions, the lawsuit says Packer experienced insomnia, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and developed symptoms of coronary artery disease.
The lawsuit claims that at one point, these symptoms were so severe Packer collapsed and was rushed to the emergency room, and is now prescribed medication and is under the care of a physician because of the severity of her heart problems.
According to Judicial Watch’s complaint, “Mr. Hastings’ intention was crystal clear: he was sexually attracted to Ms. Packer, wanted a sexual relationship with her, and would help progress her career if she acquiesced to his sexual advances.”
“For two years Hastings subjected Ms. Packer to a never-ending barrage of unwanted sexual advances. And when Ms. Packer tried, time and again, to put a stop to it, he resorted to threats and intimidation to force her compliance,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, in announcing the lawsuit.
Specifically, the complaint is seeking a judgment against Hastings, Turner, and the commission, along with back pay and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages that Judicial Watch hopes to prove at trial.
In response, Hastings said Monday that he has only seen a draft of the complaint, but that “it contains numerous inaccuracies and untruths.” “I have never sexually harassed anyone,” said Hastings. “In fact, I am insulted that these ludicrous allegations are being made against me. When all the facts are known in this case, the prevailing sentiment will be, ‘How bizarre!’ ”
Judicial Watch went after Hastings in 2007 in his capacity as chairman of the Helsinki Committee on allegations he was improperly firing the commission counsel—a lawsuit Judicial Watch says was eventually “mooted out” because the commission ultimately complied with the law in taking the personnel action. Judicial Watch also was vocal in urging then Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi in late 2006 to reject Hastings for the chairmanship of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, a post Hastings did not receive.
This article appears in the March 8, 2011 edition of NJ Daily.