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Harassment suit falters against Alcee Hastings

A federal court on Tuesday dealt a setback to a woman who claims U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings subjected her to sexual harassment and retaliation when he was co-chairman of an independent U.S. agency.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein dismissed the claim, saying Winsome Packer would have to direct her lawsuit toward the commission that employs her, not Hastings himself.

"It doesn't in any way address the validity of our client's claims against Representative Hastings," said Jim Peterson, the Judicial Watch attorney who filed the suit on Packer's behalf. "And it doesn't any way end the lawsuit. What happened today is the court decided what track upon which the case will proceed."

"Our client will still get her day in court to prove the unlawfulness of his conduct," he added. "It's in no way a defeat."

The lawsuit alleges that Packer, who worked for a House commission that Hastings led, was subjected to a "never-ending barrage of unwanted sexual advances" and was threatened and intimidated when she tried to report Hastings' behavior.

Hastings, a Democrat from Miramar, has called the assertions "ludicrous" and said he'd "never sexually harassed anyone." A former federal judge himself, Hastings on Tuesday said he appreciated the court’s ruling.  

"As I have said repeatedly, this whole thing is ridiculous, bizarre, frivolous, and has wasted – and is still wasting – a whole lot of folks’ time and money," he said in a statement. "In a race with a lie, the truth always wins. Today, the truth prevailed in a court of law, and I am glad to see that these bogus allegations have finally been dismissed."

His attorney, Tonya Robinson, has previously said the lawmaker was "deeply disturbed" by the allegations in the lawsuit "and, in the strongest terms, denies the charges. Mr. Hastings has stated unequivocally that the plaintiff's claims are untruthful and without merit."

Packer says Hastings asked several times to stay at her apartment or to get her to visit his hotel room in Vienna, Austria, when she was working as a staff representative and he was co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission. She also said Hastings asked her what kind of underwear she was wearing and alleged that much of the harassment occurred when he was in Europe on business for the commission, which advises on U.S. policy about security, human rights and other issues in Europe.

The case remains under investigation by Hastings' peers in the House of Representatives.

The Office of Congressional Ethics recommended last month that the House Committee on Ethics further review the allegations. There is "probable cause to believe that Representative Hastings violated House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law as a result of his interactions," the Office of Congressional Ethics wrote in a report issued in January.