Durham sent ‘inappropriate’ text messages to women

Three women who work with legislators say, anonymously, they received text messages from state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, that they considered inappropriate, reports The Tennessean.

The newspaper also says Republican leaders decided against hearing a woman who wanted to address what she considered sexual harassment by Durham in at a House GOP caucus meeting on whether to remove Durham from his House majority whip leadership post, though her specific concerns were never disclosed.

The three women who told The Tennessean about text messages from Durham they felt were inappropriate said they never considered filing a formal complaint.

They said they feared retribution and spoke to The Tennessean only on the condition of anonymity. They worried that a complaint would be useless, even though officials have encouraged anyone with concerns to come forward.

Two women provided copies of texts they received from Durham. The Tennessean verified the texts were sent to the women from Durham’s cellphone number. The third described the text messages she received.

One woman in her mid-20s, who worked in various capacities at the statehouse, said during the 2013 legislative session, Durham repeatedly sent text messages and Facebook messages, sometimes late into the night.

…A second woman, in her early 20s whose work required her to be at the statehouse, also said she received dozens of text messages from Durham during the 2013 session and after. A text from Durham, sent at about 1 a.m., asks the woman for pictures.

“For me, I was just trying to engage professionally, from one professional to another. And he crossed the line: You don’t text and constantly message on Facebook and ask to meet up at bars in the evening,” the woman said.

“He would come up with these ideas and I would just be like, ‘Are you crazy?’ ”

After The Tennessean described the text messages to Durham, he said he did not remember sending any of the messages.

“Not having seen the texts, not knowing who the other party to the conversation is, when they were sent, what exactly they say, whether I was responding or initiating the text stream, it is simply impossible to respond,” Durham said in an email Friday.

“Furthermore, the fact that there has never been a complaint filed makes me question your continued use of anonymous and unverified sources.”

The Tennessean verified the text messages were sent from Durham’s cellphone…. The state will not confirm whether any sexual harassment complaints have been filed.

…Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester, said a woman contacted him about Durham’s behavior about a week before the Jan. 12 meeting where GOP caucus members were set to discuss Durham’s future in leadership.

“The words she used were sexual harassment,” Alexander said.

She “seemed very determined” to discuss her concerns at the meeting, he said, but she did not disclose specific details.

…(House Majority Leader Gerald) McCormick confirmed discussing with Harwell’s chief of staff, Scott Gilmer, and House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada whether it would be appropriate for the woman to address the caucus.

“I think the general response was that it would be a bad precedent, just to get somebody who shows up at a caucus meeting and goes after a member, without going through a formal process,” McCormick said.