East Tenn lawmaker resigns after sexual harassment finding

By: - April 20, 2023 2:07 pm
Tennessee State Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee State Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

An East Tennessee lawmaker resigned Thursday after a subcommittee investigation that found he sexually harassed at least one intern.

State Rep. Scotty Campbell, a Johnson City Republican who serves as vice chair of the House Republican Caucus, told the Tennessee Lookout Thursday he would not step away from the Legislature even though the Workplace Discrimination & Harassment Subcommittee determined he violated policy. He declined further comment.

But less than two hours later, when the House resumed session, he had resigned and his name was no longer on the House vote board or on his desk. 

That group, which is chaired by Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, investigated a complaint against Campbell and found he violated House rules on discrimination and harassment. The subcommittee’s work was done secretly, and members are not allowed to comment on their deliberation.

Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Johnson City (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

The subcommittee made its finding on March 29 and sent a memorandum to House Speaker Cameron Sexton. The speaker’s office did not immediately respond to questions.

“Discrimination in any form will not be tolerated,” the subcommittee said in its memo.

Yet no action has been taken against Campbell, such as censure or removal from committees.

In contrast, the House voted two weeks ago to expel two young, Black lawmakers, Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin J. Pearson of Memphis, for violating House decorum with a protest against lax gun laws in the wake of The Covenant School shooting that killed six people. 

NewsChannel5 reported Campbell sexually harassed two legislative interns, making vulgar comments and unwanted advances. 

The report also says the state spent money to relocate one of the interns from her apartment, including shipping her furniture home and paying for her to stay in another downtown apartment during the rest of her internship.

Campbell, who served in the House from 2010 to 2012 and then won election again in 2020 and 2022, told NewsChannel5 he had “consensual, adult conversations with two adults off property.”

The family of one intern provided NewsChannel5 with a description of her experience, saying Campbell made comments to her and another 19-year-old intern about “imagining they were performing sexual acts on one another and how it drove him crazy. …”

He also asked how many men she had slept with and begged her to give him hugs, according to the report.

Campbell denied making such comments to NewsChannel5.

The woman, however, reportedly felt sick immediately while talking to Campbell and never spoke to him again before filing a sexual harassment complaint.

The director of Legislative Administration declined to provide any other information than the memorandum in Campbell’s personnel file. The subcommittee also said it would provide no other information about the investigation.

The House expelled Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin in 2016 after an investigation determined he committed misconduct with 22 women in the Legislature. He had already lost in the primary election that year.

Four years ago, former Democratic Rep. Rick Staples of Knoxville stepped down from a leadership post after the ethics subcommittee found he violated policy after a woman accused him of hugging her and making inappropriate comments.

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial and Best Single Feature from the Tennessee Press Association.