It is #MeToo time in the Bayou state.
Louisiana’s Republican Secretary of State – who for two months has refused to resign after a former executive assistant filed a sexual harassment suit against him because it would be “cowardly” – resigned today under intense political pressure.
Tom Schedler, the state’s top election official, was sued in March by Dawn Ross, accusing the married 68-year-old politician of “a pattern and practice of sexual harassment and retaliatory harassment” that went on for nearly ten years.
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Tom Schedler's former aide accused him of making repeated advances and then banishing her to a do-nothing job when she refused. https://t.co/gHecKSiqTW
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) May 1, 2018
Even when she sent him business emails on the state system, he would reply with sexual advances.
“She would send him something innocuous like ‘the office furniture has arrived,’ ‘I had to get my phone fixed,’ etc.” reports The Advocate news outlet in New Orleans. “And his response would be to ask her out again or tell her he is in love with her or that he knows she doesn’t love him.”
After the suit was filed, Schedler never said clearly that the charges were untrue, claiming that he had a “consensual sexual relationship” with Ross.
She denied they had a relationship, claiming that it was never consensual and there was no sex.
“Schedler and the Republicans dragged things out as if they were hoping that, with time, some magical explanation for the allegations made against Schedler would emerge,” wrote Jarvis DeBerry, deputy opinions editor for NOLA.com. “That magical explanation didn’t emerge, but more incontrovertible evidence of Schedler’s reprehensible behavior did.”
Democrats said his resignation was overdue.
"Tom Schedler should have been gone. His fellow Republicans should have told him to go months ago." https://t.co/lqYRZmrvB1
— Louisiana Democrats (@LaDemos) May 2, 2018
As the evidence rolled out, calls for him to resign – even from Republicans – grew until he finally announced he would exit, complaining in his final statement about the tabloid coverage of his case.
Schedler said his last day in the high profile position will be May 8.
“He becomes the highest-level public official in Louisiana to be felled by sexual misconduct accusations since the #MeToo movement began,” according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper.
The suit charged that after Schedler hired her in 2011, he made repeated passes and inappropriate comments over the state email system, even personally coming to her home with cards, sex tapes, and sex toys.
A former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Schedler also repeatedly invited Ross to accompany him for meals and on trips, often expressing his love for her.
When she refused his many advances, Schedler retaliated by ordering her to stay out of his sight, stripping her of most of her job responsibilities, sending her to work in a separate building and even forbidding her to have meals with other employees so that there would be no risk she would be seen by Schedler.
After her suit was filed in state court, Schedler said he would not resign but would not run for re-election in 2019.
In his resignation today to Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, Schedler wrote: ″I leave office with a heavy heart knowing I have disappointed the people in my life who care for me the most. But I also have experienced from them the miraculous power of forgiveness and grace during the twilight of my career, and for that I am grateful.”
“I have been incredibly frustrated,” he added, “with the tabloid approach to an incredibly serious allegation and the necessity of following the advice of counsel not to try this publicly.”
“Boo hoo,” wrote DeBerry. “It’s pretty stinky for Schedler to complain that his case got tried in the public when his case being tried in the public is the only reason he’s even confessing that he’s disappointed, people.”
What is striking about this case is that Schedler’s harassment was so blatant and went on for such a long time and that his retaliation was so obvious that when caught, he never actually put up much of a defense.
If his resignation is a sign that even a crude old fashioned alpha male harasser is finally getting the #MeToo message, then this is more than a dirty joke about an out of touch politician whose time to disappear from the public scene has come.
Unfortunately, it’s more likely that this is just one more in a long line of cases that are surfacing while even more that remained buried because of victims’ fear of retaliation or the perpetrators’ abilities to buy off those he has harmed.
With a blatant, unrepentant sexual harasser still in the White House, this has to be seen as one more mile in a very long march to a time when we will have a civil society where gender equality is a civil rights issue that every American has to take seriously.