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PA Gov. Shapiro staffer resigns after misconduct claim · Spotlight PA

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HARRISBURG — A top official and longtime ally of Gov. Josh Shapiro who abruptly resigned this week had been accused months earlier of sexually harassing a fellow administration employee.

Mike Vereb, Shapiro’s former secretary of legislative affairs, was named in a complaint filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The document, obtained by Spotlight PA and dated May 26, details alleged harassment dating back to February, soon after the start of Shapiro’s administration.

Spotlight PA is not naming the person who filed the complaint. The complainant declined to comment.

The complainant shared the filing with the commission in a text message to state Rep. Abby Major (R., Armstrong) in July 2023, according to screenshots of the conversation with the lawmaker reviewed by Spotlight PA. It is unclear how far the complaint against Vereb progressed through the Human Relations Commission. He declined to comment.

Manuel Bonder, a spokesperson for Shapiro, said Thursday that while the administration “does not comment on specific personnel matters, it takes allegations of discrimination and harassment seriously.”

Bonder referenced a policy in place in the governor’s office that details a process for investigating complaints of harassment or discrimination, and called it “robust.”

“These procedures are implemented whenever complaints of discrimination or harassment are made and provide detailed guidance to help ensure that allegations are promptly and fully investigated and that employees feel comfortable to report misconduct,” Bonder said.

He added, these procedures “expressly recognize” that employees might report allegations to entities like the Human Relations Commission, and that “reports made to those entities are addressed in accordance with the law.”

After a complaint is filed with the commission, the commission holds a “fact-finding conference” in which the complainant and respondent are able to present evidence. However, these conferences may not be held if all the parties in the case do not cooperate.

Parties can choose to settle their case at this stage, or can do so later during the commission’s investigation of the case or at conciliation. If there is no resolution, cases can proceed to a public trial.

Amanda Brothman, a spokesperson for the commission, told Spotlight PA in an email that, “As part of the PHRC’s complaint and investigation process, parties may choose to settle privately at any point,” and noted that all agreements are unique.

Chuck Pascal, an attorney representing the complainant, said he “cannot confirm the contents or authenticity of any alleged complaint, draft complaint or written statement.”

Pascal, who also chairs the Armstrong County Democratic Party, added, “We also cannot at this time confirm the existence of any settlement, agreement, or other resolution of this matter.”

According to the complaint, Vereb allegedly made inappropriate, lewd, and sexually suggestive comments to the staffer, and retaliated when they objected. The staffer said they shared their concerns about Vereb with Human Resources representatives and Shapiro aides in March, shortly before leaving their position.

Following Vereb’s resignation Wednesday, the governor’s press office issued a statement confirming the departure and saying that Vereb would be officially replaced in early October. The statement made no mention of the allegations or the complaint.

Vereb, who served as secretary of legislative affairs, has been closely linked with Shapiro for decades. The two are both from Montgomery County and served together in the state legislature, Vereb as a Republican and Shapiro as a Democrat.

Vereb chaired the Montgomery County GOP committee during Shapiro’s tenure as a county commissioner. When Shapiro was elected attorney general in 2016, Vereb was the only person not involved in Democratic politics or Shapiro’s campaign to be appointed to his staff.

When Shapiro was elected governor, he again brought Vereb on board as one of the few Republicans among his top staffers. As secretary of legislative affairs, Vereb served as Shapiro’s primary liaison with the legislature, helping to negotiate the politics of the chamber and win support for the governor’s priorities.

In the official statement, the governor’s press office said Vereb’s role would be filled on Oct. 2 by T.J. Yablonski. Yablonski currently serves as a senior advisor in the governor’s office, but he is better known as a frequent political placeholder who has, in recent years, been nominated to fill dozens of positions to meet timing requirements while the administration looked for permanent officeholders.

Yablonski’s nominations have included state boards that oversee industries like cosmetology and podiatry, prominent positions like state victim advocate, and county positions like coroner and sheriff.

In the statement shared by the administration Wednesday, Shapiro Chief of Staff Dana Fritz said Yablonski “brings over a decade of experience serving Pennsylvanians and a deep knowledge of state government to this role.”

She also had positive words for Vereb.

“Mike has spent decades serving our Commonwealth,” Fritz said in the statement shared by the administration. “Mike has been a key member of our team and thanks to his dedicated service, the Governor’s Office is prepared for the work ahead. We wish Mike all the best and we’re grateful for his service.”

Shapiro himself was not quoted in the release.

Spotlight PA reporter Angela Couloumbis contributed reporting.

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https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2023/09/pennsylvania-mike-vereb-sexual-harassment-allegation-josh-shapiro-administration/ PA Gov. Shapiro staffer resigns after misconduct claim
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