Lobbyist names Pa. lawmaker she says sexually harassed her

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

A Pennsylvania lobbyist is naming the Democratic state representative who she says sexually harassed her

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania lobbyist on Wednesday named the Democratic state representative who she says sexually harassed her four years ago, going public with his name hours after he and other lawmakers passed expanded workplace protections that were prompted in part by her story.

Andi Perez, a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union, issued a statement saying she was sexually harassed by state Rep. Mike Zabel of Delaware County and calling on him to resign.

Zabel, who is starting his third term in the House, did not respond to several messages left seeking comment in recent days. He was among those who voted Wednesday for new House rules with an expanded section on handling sexual misconduct allegations.

Perez spoke about the matter but did not name Zabel during a Jan. 27 public hearing in Philadelphia held by a bipartisan committee considering rules changes. She said at that hearing that a state lawmaker had caressed her leg while they were discussing legislation outside the Capitol in 2019 and he did not stop when she moved away from him.

House rules at that time did not allow her to file a complaint with the House Ethics Committee because such complaints could only be filed by the chamber's employees, representatives and officers — not lobbyists.

House Democratic leadership issued a statement late Wednesday saying they were concerned by the allegations and take them seriously. The Ethics Committee’s broadened rules will go into effect Thursday and it will be able to take up matters that go back five years, as Perez’s does, the Democratic leaders noted.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted or subjected to extreme abuse. Decisions on whether to identify those who say they have been subjected to other forms of sexual misconduct are made on a case-by-case basis, and Perez has spoken in public about it.

Perez called it “despicable” that a conservative news and opinion outlet, Broad and Liberty, identified Zabel on Wednesday. In the statement she subsequently released, Perez said she would have preferred to have shared more about her account at her own pace.

Since 2017, at least 120 state lawmakers in 41 states have faced public allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment, according to an Associated Press tally. Of those, 47 have resigned or been expelled and 45 have faced other repercussions, such as the loss of a committee chair or party leadership position. Most of those allegations were brought forth after the #MeToo movement sparked a public reckoning for people in power accused of sexual wrongdoing.

The Pennsylvania House rules prohibit elected representatives and other House officials from engaging in discrimination or sexual harassment of anyone while they are performing House duties, in House offices, on House property or at a House-sponsored meeting or event. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Wednesday's vote was on a complete House rules package that included items unrelated to the sexual harassment changes, and passed on a party-line vote.

“I am proud that sharing my story created real, tangible, and systemic change in the Legislature to give victims of harassment an avenue for justice," Perez said in her statement. She said the House rules now have “some of the strongest anti-harassment accountability measures in ANY legislative chamber across the country.”