A Democratic state representative has been found in violation of the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, but colleagues have stopped short of recommending his removal or any disciplinary action.
A letter sent by the House Workplace Discrimination & Harassment Subcommittee to Speaker Glen Casada earlier this month and released today, Knoxville Rep. Rick Staples was directed to take “preventive action” to “ensure the violation does not reoccur.”
Staples was accused by an unnamed woman involved in Democratic politics. The woman claims Staples held onto her waist during a meeting in his office, after making inappropriate comments about her appearance on multiple occasions.
The allegations first appeared last week in The Tennessean.
In an interview with reporters after the story was published, Staples called the allegations a “political character assassination,” and said he was not under investigation, even though the subcommittee had found him in violation of policy days before.
"I'm under no investigation at this point," Staples said then. "I haven't been found guilty of anything."
The letter is dated April 1, so it appears to call that claim into question. But when asked this week why he told reporters he was not being investigated, Staples told WPLN he stands by his statement.
“At the moment when I made my comments, they were accurate and truthful like I always am,” Staples said. “I received the letter yesterday (April 9). I have no control over when that letter was dated. I can only control when I received it and received knowledge of it.”
According to the letter, the House Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Subcommittee conducted “interviews with all parties” before concluding the report on Staples.
“Representative Staples has been directed to take preventive action individually to ensure that the violation does not reoccur and report back to the Ethics Subcommittee,” the letter said. “Other remedial measure have also been instituted.”
It is unclear what those remedial measures were. The subcommittee said no further information on the complaint will be released.
Staples is the fourth state lawmaker facing sexual misconduct allegations in the past four years.
The others were Franklin Republican Jeremy Durham, who was expelled from the House in 2016 after investigators substantiated he'd sexually harassed nearly two dozen women; Shelby County Republican Mark Lovell, who resigned in 2017 after being found to have inappropriately touched a woman at a bar; and Waynesboro Republican David Byrd, who's been accused by three women of sexual misconduct when he was their high school basketball coach in the 1980s.
Byrd was re-elected last fall, after the allegations were made.