Rep. Mike Stewart, a top Tennessee House Democrat, says he did not delay reporting allegations of sexual harassment made against one of his colleagues.
Stewart, who is the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, is being accused by GOP lawmakers of taking too long to report an incident involving Knoxville Democrat Rick Staples.
The woman claimed Staples grabbed onto her waist while at a meeting in his office, after making inappropriate comments about her appearance. According to The Tennessean, the woman first reported the incident to Stewart but had to follow up before getting a response.
On Thursday, Republican Rep. Cameron Sexton told reporters he believes Stewart didn't follow the legislature's harassment policy.
"Is it a violation? We are not sure," Sexton said. He told reporters he believes Stewart should be investigated.
But Stewart denies he waited too long to report the incident.
“That’s completely not true," Stewart said. "And I looked very carefully at our policy to make sure that I complied with it and complied with it to the letter.”
According to the legislature’s policy on harassment, complaints are supposed to be reported immediately to the Director of Legislative Administration.
Meanwhile, Staples is voluntarily stepping down as the House's assistant minority leader, a largely ceremonial post.
Staples said in a statement Thursday he wants “end the unwarranted suffering” of his family and serve without distractions.
"I have decided to step down from my leadership position of Assistant House Minority Leader so I can end the unwarranted suffering on my family, continue to serve my constituents unimpeded and end any distractions this may bring to the Tennessee House," Staples said.
"I look forward to following the recommendations of the Ethics Committee and pledge to remain the best servant to my constituency of District 15."
Staples said he does not intend to resign, and Stewart said he doesn't think Staples should.