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N.H. House settles sexual harassment lawsuit

CONCORD, N.H. -- The House has agreed to pay $85,000 to a former committee secretary who accused a lawmaker of sexual harassment.

In a case that exposed the lack of a sexual harassment policy covering lawmakers, Dorothy Pike sued then-state Representative Ron Giordano and the House, saying leaders did not do enough to protect her from the Salem lawmaker's groping and his threatening behavior.

A jury agreed last February, finding that the House not only failed to protect Pike but also retaliated against her for reporting the abuse. Jurors awarded her $175,000 in damages and almost $130,000 in back pay. The House was ordered to pay 55 percent and Giordano the balance.

Gene Chandler, who was then House speaker, said he would appeal the verdict, but the parties reached a settlement last month. The money will come from the state's litigation fund, which pays legal claims against state agencies.

Pike's lawyer, Tom Closson, said he and his client are pleased with the agreement.

Pike alleged that in 2001, Giordano forcibly kissed and groped her at work, repeatedly asked her to have sex, and made threatening phone calls to her home. Giordano denied the most serious charges, though he admitted telling off-color jokes and calling Pike at home once when he was drunk.

When Pike complained to her boss, House officials never investigated her allegations. Instead, they assigned a security guard to follow Pike around and met with Giordano, who agreed to stay away from her.

In defense arguments, the House maintained that Chandler was powerless to discipline Giordano because Giordano was an elected official, not an employee. The defense also contended that the House had met its obligation to provide a safe working environment through the informal agreement between Giordano and House leaders to stay away from Pike.

The agreement does not affect the judgment against Giordano, who did not appeal the case and has not paid Pike any money yet.

Giordano said he was fired after the verdict and has no assets to cash in. He said he offered to pay Pike in installments but Closson would accept only a lump sum.

After the trial, Chandler filed legislation creating a sexual harassment policy covering lawmakers. The policy, which was signed into law a few months later, puts the House Ethics Committee in charge of investigating and disposing of sexual harassment claims against lawmakers.

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