Rep. Hastings asks that harassment case be tossed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressman Alcee Hastings asked a court Saturday to throw out claims that he subjected a former employee to sexual harassment and retaliation when he was co-chairman of an independent U.S. agency.

The Florida Democrat said the case should be handled according to congressionally-approved administrative and judicial remedies — and not the U.S. District Court in Washington, where the plaintiff, Winsome Packer, lodged her complaint.

Packer says Hastings asked several times to stay at her apartment or to get her to visit his hotel room in Vienna, Austria, when she worked as staff representative and he was co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission. She also said Hastings asked her what kind of underwear she was wearing and alleged that much of the harassment occurred when he was in Europe on business for the commission, which advises on U.S. policy about security, human rights and other issues in Europe.

Hastings’ 42-page filing steers largely clear of the substance of Packer’s claims.

But in a footnote, Hastings “unequivocally” denied the accusations and said Packer’s lawsuit was aimed at drumming up sales of a novel she has written about intrigue and race in Washington politics. It also accuses a conservative group called Judicial Watch of representing Packer as part of a series of attempts to attack his credibility.

Packer worked for the commission in Vienna from 2008-2010.

Her suit names as defendants Hastings, the Helsinki Commission and commission official Fred Turner. She says Turner retaliated against her after she made her harassment claims.

In a separate filing Saturday, the commission disputed the sexual harassment allegations and said instances in which Hastings hugged Packer, gave her a music box or asked to see her apartment were out of general benevolence toward staff. Reviewing each of Packer’s claims, the commission denied that some took place and said it didn’t have enough information to know what happened in other instances.

Turner also asked to be dismissed from the suit, contending there’s no evidence he sought to retaliate against Packer. He said he took away some of her job duties after Packer cited problems of being “marginalized” by other colleagues.

Hastings has previously called the allegations “ludicrous.”

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