By Dan Carden

Hoosier taxpayers could be forced to pay the price for alleged sexual misconduct by Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr.

On Tuesday, state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, and three additional female General Assembly employees filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against both Hill and the state of Indiana seeking unspecified financial damages, attorney fees and court costs. The women claim Hill touched their backs and/or buttocks without consent during an event last year at an Indianapolis bar.

The women allege they were subject to sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation by the state and Hill, as well as battery, sexual battery, defamation and invasion of privacy by the attorney general alone.

In addition to monetary damages, the plaintiffs are requesting a personal apology from Hill and changes to state policies to ensure no person working at the Statehouse is again subject to sexual harassment, and effective remedies are in place for those who are.

"Illegal and improper behavior should be addressed by our laws -- no matter the perpetrator's title," said Gabrielle McLemore, Senate Democratic communications director, who said Hill rubbed his hand up and down her back for a sustained period while he sat next to her at the bar.

Hill, a Republican, steadfastly has denied engaging in any unwelcoming touching at the March 15, 2018, event at A.J.'s Lounge in Indianapolis celebrating the adjournment of Indiana's annual legislative session.

The attorney general's office said in a statement that it will "vigorously defend" the state and Hill in response to the lawsuit.

In October, Special Prosecutor Daniel Sigler concluded he could not successfully make the case that Hill's actions amounted to either a felony or misdemeanor crime because it was not clear that Hill intended to touch the women in the "rude, angry or insolent" manner required by state law to win a conviction.

Nevertheless, Niki DaSilva, a Senate Republican legislative assistant who said Hill moved his hand down her back and forcefully grabbed her buttocks, said she hopes the civil lawsuit will deter any future conduct of a similar nature.

"We are initiating litigation to ensure all individuals working in and around the Indiana Statehouse are able to perform their jobs and pursue their careers free from sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation for reporting such events," DaSilva said.

Candelaria Reardon, who said Hill touched her back and buttocks twice at the event, said even as an elected official she has encountered retaliation, unwelcome looks and rude comments from fellow legislators and others inside and outside the Statehouse as a result of coming forward.

"There's a whole host of unintended consequences that go along with this kind of trauma," Candelaria Reardon said.

"It changes the way you view the world. It changes the way you do your job. It's become a distraction to doing our jobs. It certainly has influenced where we go and where we don't go. It's caused stress to our families, to our friends. It's impacted our health."

Samantha Lozano, a House Democratic legislative assistant originally from East Chicago, who said Hill wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close to him while seated next to her at the bar, said she wished the lawsuit wasn't necessary.

"I came to the Statehouse to learn, to grow as a professional and this is what I've encountered within the first year of being there," Lozano said. "This is not the right way for us state employees to be treated."

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Republican leaders of the Indiana House and Senate all have called on Hill to resign.

Though the Republican-controlled General Assembly this year declined to consider demands by Democratic lawmakers that Hill be impeached and removed from office.

However, Hill still could lose his office before his term expires at the end of 2020, if his law license is suspended by the Indiana Supreme Court following an October hearing before former Justice Myra Selby.

State law requires the attorney general be a licensed lawyer. A temporary suspension or permanent disbarment by the Supreme Court would make Hill ineligible to continue serving.

(c)2019 The Times (Munster, Ind.)