BATON ROUGE – Louisiana has a sexual harassment problem – like everywhere else, it seems – but a new report shows this has become especially costly, particularly in corrections.
A report this month in the Times-Picayune shows state government has spent over $5 million on nearly 100 lawsuits revolving around sexual harassment claims over the last nine years. Citing a Louisiana legislative auditor's report, the article shows state agencies have reviewed hundreds of internal complaints.
Many of these payouts had something to do with the state’s justice system – reports show the Department of Corrections was involved in more than $1 million of the approximately $5.2 million paid out overall in sexual harassment claims.
Since Louisiana's Department of Justice lacks comprehensive tracking for sexual harassment complaints, it could not comply with an audit that sought to understand where many of these problems are coming from. What's clear is that the state has a big problem – and that incarceration and the state’s criminal justice system is a big contributor.
“It is unfortunate all around for the folks who’ve been subjected to harassment and for the taxpayers, who will ultimately foot the bill to settle these lawsuits,” Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, recently told the Louisiana Record.
Landry called for reforms and a real eye toward fixing the sexual harassment problem that seems endemic in Louisiana communities.
“Clearly, we need better oversight and leadership from the top down to ensure that these kinds of things don’t happen in the future,” Landry said.
“No one should have to endure sexual harassment or discrimination while on the job,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a press release. “There should be effective policies in place that enable employees to safely report instances of harassment or discrimination without fear of retaliation, which is exactly what these set of recommendations accomplish. This will give employees the assurance that their complaints will be appropriately addressed.”