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Bernero reaches settlement with intern who sued over sexual harassment

Virg Bernero photo
Scott Pohl
Former Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero in a 2017 file photo.

Updated on October 13 at 5:40 p.m. ET

Former Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has reached a settlement with a former intern who sued him over sexual harassment.

The case was closed Tuesday, Ingham County Circuit Court records show.

The lawsuit filed by Liz Hart alleged Bernero sexually harassed her on a "daily basis" when she worked as his intern in 2013 and 2014. It also said he told her he had a foot fetish and that he sexually assaulted her on two occasions when he stroked her foot with sexual intent.

As part of the settlement, Bernero agreed to pay Hart $4,500, according to a copy of the agreement provided by Benero's attorney, Colline Cheltenham. He also agreed to send Hart an apology letter.

“Our client feels pretty good about the settlement,” Cheltenham said. “He thought it was reasonable and the right thing to do.”

In all, Bernero's apology was four sentences.

"I am deeply sorry for the pain and hurt that I have caused you." he wrote. "This was never my intent. I should have known better, and I do now. I wish you nothing but the best in the future."

Hart said Wednesday she was working on a statement, to be released to the media later this week.

Hart's attorneys had planned to admit an audio recording as evidence, in which they said Bernero conceded there was "no question" he had been "inappropriate" with Hart.

But Bernero's attorneys argued the recording had been obtained illegally and they asked Judge Wanda Stokes to block its use in the case.

Stokes had been set to rule on the use of that recording during a hearing, since cancelled, originally scheduled for this week.

Bernero made the remarks, which included that he was "feeling guilty" about his treatment of Hart, during a conversation with City Council Member Kathie Dunbar, according to court records.

Political consultant Emily Dievendorf was in the room with Dunbar while Bernero joined the discussion by phone, according to court records. Dievendorf "secretly" recorded the conversation, despite not participating directly in the exchange, Bernero's attorneys said.

Bernero, Lansing's mayor from 2006 through 2017, filed to run again for the office this year. He dropped out of the race in April, the day before on-the-record harassment allegations from Hart and other women became public in the media.

Dunbar announced her plans to run for a mayor on the day of Bernero's withdrawal from the race. She's facing incumbent Andy Schor in the general election Nov. 2.

Cheltenham said Hart’s attorney initially reached out to discuss a settlement.

"We were wanting to litigate it," Cheltenham said.

Hart’s lawyer, Manda Danieleski, declined to comment Wednesday other than to confirm a settlement has been reached.

Bernero, a former Democratic state legislator, lost a bid for Michigan governor against Rick Snyder in 2010.

Sarah Lehr is a politics and civics reporter for WKAR News.
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