A former aide to Rep. Alcee Hastings filed a lawsuit Monday claiming he repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances and threatened her position when she refused him, allegations the congressman denied as "ludicrous."
The conservative legal group Judicial Watch is representing Winsome Packer in her sexual harassment claim against Hastings, a Florida Democrat, and the Helsinki Commission that he chaired. Packer served as the commission's staff representative in Vienna and said much of the harassment occurred when Hastings was in Europe on business for the commission, which advises on U.S. policy about security, human rights and other issues involving Europe.
Packer's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, said Hastings kept asking to stay at her apartment or get her to visit his hotel room, hugging her and making sexual comments including asking her what kind of underwear she was wearing.
Hastings, a 74-year-old serving his 10th term in the House, issued a written statement denying Packer's claims.
"I have never sexually harassed anyone," the statement said. "In fact, I am insulted that these ludicrous allegations are being made against me. ... I will win this lawsuit."
New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith, the current chairman of the commission, said Packer was told under Hastings leadership that laws protecting congressional workers do not apply to commission staffers like her.
"I absolutely will insist that all of the current protections afforded to every other congressional employee, in like manner, apply to the people on the Helsinki Commission," Smith said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I have a zero tolerance policy (toward sexual harassment) in my own office and now as chairman of the Helsinki Commission as well."
Packer had been a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, but lost her job after Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 election. Her suit claimed that Hastings, who knew her through a friend of hers who worked in his office, invited her to apply to the commission but soon after her hiring made it clear he wanted a personal relationship.
Packer said she complained to her supervisors in Washington, the commission's counsel and aides to Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the commission's co-chairman. Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitski said she couldn't comment on the case. Packer also complained to the House Ethics Committee. The panel did not act on her complaint, and she resigned as, she said, she developed stress-related health problems.
"What happened to me was no secret," Packer said at a news conference at Judicial Watch headquarters. "I was let down by the commission and the Congress."
Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.