Before senior aide to Pennsylvania governor resigned, coworker accused adviser of sexual harassment
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A senior adviser to Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro who abruptly resigned this week had been accused earlier this year of sexual harassment by a coworker who said his behavior forced her to quit her job in the governor’s office.
Mike Vereb, who served as Shapiro’s secretary of legislative affairs until his resignation on Wednesday, was accused in the woman’s complaint to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission of subjecting her to lewd, misogynistic and unwanted sexual advances during her brief stint working in the governor’s administration.
Vereb didn’t immediately respond to a message left on his cellphone Thursday.
A former state lawmaker, Vereb worked closely with Shapiro when he was attorney general. After the Democrat won the governor’s post, Verb assumed the role of shepherding the governor’s agenda through the politically divided Legislature.
In a statement dated March 31 to the state Office of Administration, the woman said Vereb told her that “If you and I decided to enter into a sexual relationship it would be our business” and that he also told her to wear lower-cut tops and skirts with shorter slits.
Shapiro’s spokesperson, Manuel Bonder, said in an emailed statement that he would not comment on a specific personnel matter. But he said the state takes “allegations of discrimination and harassment seriously” and there are procedures to investigate such claims.
The woman’s lawyer, Chuck Pascal, said Thursday he was not able to “confirm the contents or authenticity of any alleged complaint, draft complaint or written statement” from her. “We also cannot at this time confirm the existence of any settlement, agreement, or other resolution of this matter.” Bonder declined to comment on the existence of any settlement.
The woman was offered a position in the governor’s administration about the time Shapiro was taking office in January and resigned in March after she brought forth concerns over Vereb’s behavior, according to her commission complaint. She said the governor’s office did not remedy the situation or protect her from retaliation.
In the statement to the Office of Administration, the woman wrote that she was afraid of Vereb.
“I am scared of what he will do, the rumors he will spread, I am scared for my professional career,” she said. “I am putting this all on the line because I am fearful that he will do this to someone else.”
State Rep. Abby Major, a Republican from Armstrong County, said the woman provided her with the interview and complaint several months ago, at a time when they were talking daily about the matter.
“She lost her livelihood,” Major said, noting rumors were being spread about it. “So I’m sure it was very difficult to try to continue working in this atmosphere and in the sphere of politics where some of the people at the very top are working against you.”
Vereb, a Republican, is a former Montgomery County police officer who was elected to the state Legislature in 2007 and served five terms. He served alongside Shapiro when he also was a Montgomery county state representative. In 2017, Vereb went to work for the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General under Shapiro.
The governor’s office announced Vereb’s resignation on Wednesday and appointed TJ Yablonski to the role, starting Monday.
Shapiro has not issued any public comment on his departure. In a statement Wednesday announcing Vereb’s resignation, Shapiro’s chief of staff, Dana Fritz, credited Vereb for work on the state budget and called him a “key member of a team.”