Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, in a scene during activity in the Louisiana Senate, Thursday, April 20, 2017.

Sexual harassment sidelined an effort Tuesday by Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office to create a new division within the state Department of Justice.

Noting that the attorney general is legally bound to defend agency heads when they are sued on claims of on-the-job sexual harassment, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson demanded to know who represents the employees.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Bill Stiles said he couldn’t answer but that state law dictates the Justice Department’s role. “It’s a legislative matter,” he said.

“No, it’s an employment-related issue,” Peterson countered. “I’m asking you because I don’t know where else to go. So, where do employees go?”

Stiles suggested that an aggrieved worker can file a lawsuit.

Landry’s lawyers are defending Secretary of State Tom Schedler from allegations in a lawsuit filed by a long-time employee who claimed he had harassed her for years. Schedler denied the claims, saying the relationship with his subordinate was consensual, which she has said isn't true. 

Schedler announced Tuesday that he will resign from office effective May 8 after calls from both U.S. senators to do so. 

The Schedler case and that of Johnny Anderson, a former top aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards who likewise was accused by a woman someone he supervised, underscored legislator’s struggles this session to craft a cohesive policy for handling sexual harassment across state government workplaces. Several bills to address how to handle harassment claims are working their way through the legislative process.

(Anderson also has denied the allegations but he resigned as soon as the claims became public. The state has since settled the litigation against him.)

Peterson said an employee who feels uncomfortable with a workplace situation should have options short of having to go to court.

Stiles, whose job includes vetting such allegations within the Justice Department, said a supervisor in his office having a sexual affair with a direct employee, even if it was consensual, likely would be terminated, depending on the individual facts. But, because the Justice Department is defending Schedler, he could not comment on that situation.

Peterson then moved to strip out language from House Bill 447 that would allow the Department of Justice to create a new division to handle federal issues. Stiles said the new division was necessary to help those interested in cases that pitted state policies against those of the federal government.

The Senate Judiciary B committee approved her amendment and sent the legislation, now without authorization for a new division, to Senate floor without objection.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.