Lawmakers are asking what the interim secretary of state knew about his boss’s alleged sexual misconduct and when did he know it.

Kyle Ardoin says he knew nothing about any allegations that Secretary of State Tom Schedler sexually harassed an employee until the day the staffer filed a lawsuit in February.

Amid increasing calls for his resignation, Schedler, 68, announced Tuesday afternoon he would step down on May 8. The next day he’ll begin receiving $8,928.85 in retirement benefits each month for the rest of his life.

Ardoin, his top aide, is taking over the office that oversees elections and corporate filings until voters choose a new secretary of state in November.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who is also chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, called out Ardoin, without mentioning his name, during a Tuesday speech on the Senate floor. "If you knew what Secretary of State Schedler was doing, step down tomorrow," Peterson, of New Orleans, said.

It was a statement that was often repeated in the hallways of the State Capitol as some legislators and lobbyists spent Wednesday recalling passages from the sexually suggestive emails that were part of Schedler’s on-the-clock exchanges with employee Dawn Ross. Schedler says he had a "consensual sexual relationship" with Ross, which she denies.

Her lawsuit also claims Ardoin was aware she had problems with Schedler. Ross claims Ardoin ordered her to "stay out of sight" at work after she rebuffed Schedler's sexual advances.

Ardoin said Wednesday he had no clue Schedler had a sexual relationship with Ross until the day she filed the lawsuit.

Asked for comment by an Advocate reporter about the lawsuit, Ardoin said he went into Schedler’s office to discuss how to respond. Expecting an outright denial, Schedler instead said he had a sexual affair with Ross.

Ardoin said his mouth dropped open in shock.

“She never came to me with any problems whatsoever, never voiced any concerns, never sent an email,” Ardoin said.

He was the go-to executive in the office for sexual harassment complaints and had terminated a supervisor about three years earlier over that very issue. “If I knew, I would have followed the policy and conducted an investigation. No one is exempt from our policies, including the secretary,” Ardoin said.

He said he and Schedler never talked about their personal lives beyond idle chit-chat about grandchildren and vacation trips. But he was aware that Schedler was friendly with Ross, who worked in the same office suite.

“I thought they were friends,” Ardoin said. “They talked about going out for drinks, talked about going out for dinners and lunches and what not. But I never saw anything that would have clued me that something inappropriate was going on.”

In an interview conducted by her lawyer’s staff, which was published last week, Ross described a final "blow-up" in which Schedler began screaming at her after she asked to take a couple of days off. She said she told Schedler that "you're not going to do this to me anymore. I said, 'I'm gone.'"

"He got right up in my face and said, 'Get out of this office and don't ever come back here again,'" Ross said.

Ardoin said he was out of the office when the incident occurred. Schedler told Ardoin what happened and asked him to talk with Ross.

“I said, ‘Look I understand you had a disagreement. Don’t go into the Secretary’s suite’,” Ardoin recalled. “I said, ‘Steer clear of the Secretary until all this blows over.’”

Ross, in her interview, said she was transferred to the Secretary of State’s office in the State Capitol the following day and "sat there with nothing to do."

As First Assistant Secretary, Ardoin is paid $130,000 annually. Schedler, as secretary of state, was paid $115,000.

While Ardoin was at the State Capitol to testify before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday, Schedler was at his office across town handling paperwork necessary for him to resign.

Schedler has 28.1 total years of service credit in the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System, better known as LASERS. That includes nearly six years as a member of the Slidell City Council in the 1990s. He was elected to the state Senate in October 1995 and joined the legislative retirement system in 1996.

A year later, voters ended pensions for part-time employees, such as legislators. But those already in the system – including Schedler – were allowed to stay and accrue benefits at a percentage higher than other state employees.

After 12 years as a senator, Schedler reached his term limit and joined the secretary of state’s office in 2008. He became interim secretary of state when Jay Dardenne was elected lieutenant governor and was elected in his own right in November 2010.


Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.