Report says Missouri Rep. Rocky Miller created false affair rumor

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A Missouri House member engaged in "unbecoming" conduct by creating a false rumor that another lawmaker was having an affair with a House employee, according to a report from a legislative ethics panel.

The report found that Rep. Rocky Miller's actions were "personally hurtful" and "professionally damaging" to those falsely accused and may have compromised the chamber's ability to provide a "respectful, professional work environment."

An outside investigation conducted for the House Ethics Committee concluded that Miller's actions weren't severe or pervasive enough to qualify as sexual harassment under federal or state law but may have violated the House's sexual harassment policy. The committee's findings were printed in Thursday's House journal, which was publicly available Friday.

Miller, a Republican from the Lake of the Ozarks area in central Missouri, declined to comment Friday when contacted by The Associated Press.

The ethics panel did not recommend any further action against Miller, who is chairman of a House rules committee.

Miller is one at least 94 state lawmakers across the nation who have been accused of sexual harassment or misconduct, resigned from office or had other repercussions taken against them as the result of such accusations since the start of 2017, according to data tracked by The Associated Press. Sexual misconduct accusations also were made public this week against Tennessee state Rep. Rick Staples, a Democrat who apologized for "any words or actions that have been misinterpreted."

Many of the complaints involving lawmakers became public after October 2017, when allegations of sexual misconduct against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein sparked the #MeToo movement. As a result, about half of all state legislative chambers updated their sexual harassment policies last year, and several others have done so this year.

The Missouri House had enhanced its rules against sexual harassment in 2015, after then House Speaker John Diehl Jr. resigned while acknowledging he had exchanged sexually charged text messages with a House intern.

The allegations against Miller had not been publicly revealed until the release of the House Ethics Committee report.

The report said a House employee filed a sexual harassment complaint against Miller on Sept. 20 regarding the false rumor. Under House rules, that triggered an investigation by a private attorney, who concluded that there was substantial evidence Miler had created the rumor and that there was no evidence of a romantic or sexual relationship between the House employee and another lawmaker. Neither the employee nor other lawmaker was named in the report.

At the request of the ethics panel, Miller underwent additional sexual harassment training and wrote a letter apologizing to the House employee in November, according to the ethics panel.

But in January, the committee received word from a different lawmaker that Miller may have again spread the same false rumor about a romantic relationship involving the staff member and lawmaker, the report said. The committee said it couldn't conclude for certain what Miller discussed in January because of a lack of witnesses and evidence.