Accused Tennessee lawmaker resigns from leadership position

Rick Staples

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Democratic Tennessee lawmaker says he’s resigning from his leadership position after a House ethics panel concluded he violated the General Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.

Rep. Rick Staples announced Thursday he would step down as assistant House minority leader so he could end the “unwarranted suffering” on his family.

In his statement, Staples said he would not comment further on the issue moving forward.

House Speaker Glen Casada’s office received a letter from the House Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Subcommittee on April 1, which said the panel had reviewed complaints against Staples.

According to the letter, the subcommittee directed the Knoxville Democrat to take actions to ensure the violation does not happen again and to report back to the subcommittee.

“Representative Staples has been directed to take preventative action individually to ensure that the violation does not reoccur and report back to the Ethics Subcommittee. Other remedial measures have also been instituted to ensure that the harassment does not reoccur and to correct the effects of the harassment,” the letter stated.

The Tennessean first reported the existence of the letter Wednesday. The Associated Press has since obtained a copy.

The letter, which is now part of Staples’ legislative personnel file, does not specify what types of actions Staples will take.

“The Ethics Subcommittee is committed to protecting members, employees, and visitors by providing an environment free of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation,” the letter continued. “Discrimination and harassment in any form will not be tolerated.”

On April 4, Staples told reporters he was sorry his behavior was possibly misinterpreted, but denied he was under investigation.

“If currently or in the past I’ve had any words or actions that have been misinterpreted, that is due an apology, and I submit that apology,” Staples said at the time.

He also said then, “I am under no investigation at this point. I have not been found guilty of anything. Unfortunately, this is being used as a tool and an avenue for political character assassination.”

A spokesman for the Democratic House caucus on Wednesday said Staples had no further comment about the letter and declined to answer questions why Staples denied the existence of an investigation when the ethics subcommittee had found three days earlier that he violated the sexual harassment policy.

However, Staples later told WPLN that he still stands by his April 4 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.”

The allegations against Staples were first reported by The Tennessean last week. A woman told the newspaper Staples inappropriately touched her by grabbing and holding on to her waist while standing behind her during a recent visit to the state Capitol. Staples allegedly also made several inappropriate comments about her appearance.

The woman — who was not identified in the report — said she reported the encounter to Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville, but added he only responded after she followed up with his office.

The claims surrounding Staples surfaced a week after a Republican lawmaker also accused of sexual misconduct was asked by Casada to step down as an education subcommittee chairman.

Rep. David Byrd had faced months of protests from victim advocates calling for his resignation ever since he was named to the committee leadership position.

Two women have said the Waynesboro lawmaker inappropriately touched them nearly three decades ago when he was their high school basketball coach. A third woman said Byrd tried to touch her.

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