Settling the sexual harassment case of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s longtime confidant will cost Keystone State taxpayers nearly $300,000, according to reports on Wednesday.
Shapiro’s office reportedly paid out $295,000 to a woman who said Mike Vereb, Shapiro’s former legislative affairs secretary and closest advisor, made inappropriate comments to her. Included in the settlement is a nondisclosure agreement, meaning the woman is legally obligated not to talk about what happened during her tenure under Vereb.
Shapiro, who has been a steadfast defender of Vereb going back to his days in Montgomery County politics – doesn’t feel the need for the story to go any further.
“I can speak generally about this matter,” Shapiro said in Pittsburgh this week. “Look, confidentiality agreements are designed to protect all parties. I can say specifically in this case, that all parties had to agree to that — or both parties, I should say — had to agree to that. And the idea here is to be able to protect the interest of all those involved. I would just say, just because someone in this case didn’t honor that confidentiality doesn’t mean my administration won’t.”
When Vereb stepped down recently, it was discovered the accusations were first reported in early 2023. That raised questions about why it took so long for Shapiro — who claims to be an advocate for women — to act. Critics are also asking whether the Governor’s Office slow-walked the investigation and put the alleged victim in danger.
Shapiro, widely believed to be considering a future White House run, has declined to say when he knew about the accusations against Vereb or if the governor’s longtime advisor was forced out of his position. Shapiro has also dismissed questions on whether his administration tried to hide the scandal and shifted the talk to women in leadership. “Our administration is led by two women, strong women…and we work every day to make sure that we have a healthy, safe, professional work environment for all of our employees.”
Pennsylvania Democrats strongly defended Shapiro earlier this month following a closed-door meeting. Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Bethlehem) expressed confidence that the governor handled it well. “He has two powerful women who know what they’re doing when it comes to personnel issues.”
How does she feel now?
“The senator’s position has not changed,” Joseph M. Kelly, Boscola’s chief of staff, told DVJournal. “She remains confident in how the governor and his team handled the matter.”
No other Democrats commented when asked about the settlement and NDA.
Pennsylvania Senate Republicans, however, are irked.
“The lack of transparency and accountability surrounding this process is very disturbing, and, unfortunately, the taxpayers are footing the bill,” Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery) said to DVJournal. “Harassment of any kind in the workplace is never acceptable, and when these incidents occur at the highest levels of state government, the public deserves answers. We are currently re-evaluating the handling of this incident, and I believe changes will be needed to ensure that victims are protected, wrongdoers are held responsible, and taxpayers are respected.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) suggested an even stronger response. “We are reviewing the matter with other Senate members and considering solution-driven options, which may include hearings.”
A Ward spokesperson confirmed, “We are looking at NDAs” when asked what legislative solutions are being considered. Pennycuick didn’t say if she would support legislation banning NDAs for sexual harassment victims.
Other Pennsylvania Republicans demanded transparency while expressing outrage that taxpayers footed the bill for the settlement. The money came from Shapiro’s office and the Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program.
Women’s rights groups remained curiously silent on the happenings within the Shapiro administration. The League of Women Voters Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Coalition to Advance Respect (formerly Pa. Coalition Against Rape), Womens Law Project, Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, and WOAR Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence did not reply to emails on whether they supported the NDA and settlement for the woman who made the complaint.
Life Our Voices founder and American Democratic Party strategist Julie Roginsky didn’t answer an email either but has said elsewhere that she believes Shapiro should release the woman from the NDA.
“Gov. Shapiro has a tremendous record when it comes to transparency, especially when it comes to transparency with respect to sexual misconduct,” she said to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette while citing Shapiro’s work as state attorney general during his investigation into the Catholic Church. “It would be awful for him to sacrifice all that goodwill by preventing a survivor from telling her story.”
Under the terms of the $295,000 settlement, the governor’s office is not held liable.