- Associated Press - Thursday, April 11, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A Democratic Tennessee lawmaker on Thursday announced he is resigning from his leadership position after a House ethics panel concluded he violated the General Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.

“I have already publicly apologized for any distress I unintentionally caused,” said Rep. Rick Staples of Knoxville. “I have decided to step down from my leadership position of Assistant House Minority Leader so I can end the unwarranted suffering on my family, continue to serve my constituents unimpeded and end any distractions this may bring to the Tennessee House.”

Staples first apologized last week, when the allegations were first made public, saying he was sorry if his actions were “misinterpreted,” but the allegations were nothing more than a “political character assassination.”

House Speaker Glen Casada’s office received a letter from the House Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Subcommittee on April 1, which said the panel had reviewed complaints against Staples.

According to the letter, the subcommittee directed the Knoxville Democrat to take actions to ensure the violation does not happen again and to report back to the subcommittee.

“I look forward to following the recommendations of the Ethics Committee and pledge to remain the best servant to my constituency of District 15,” Staples said in his statement.

The ethic committee’s recommendations have not been made public. However, Casada said Thursday he was satisfied with the panel’s investigation and conclusions.

In his prepared statement, Staples added he would not comment further on the issue moving forward.

The allegations against Staples were first reported by The Tennessean last week. A woman told the newspaper Staples inappropriately touched her by grabbing and holding on to her waist while standing behind her during a recent visit to the state Capitol. She said he also made several inappropriate comments about her appearance.

The woman - who was not identified in the report - said she reported the encounter to Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville, but added he only responded after she followed up with his office.

Republican Majority Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton said Thursday he believed Stewart violated the General Assembly’s rules by waiting too long to report the allegations, but he stopped short of calling for an investigation.

Stewart has maintained he followed all legislative rules correctly.

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