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U.S. presidential candidate Bloomberg regrets telling 'bawdy' jokes

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday said he regretted telling off-color jokes and defended his company’s record on the treatment of female employees, saying he tried to make the company a good place to work.

Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, is mounting a late challenge for the Democratic nomination and has risen modestly in public opinion polls as he blankets U.S. airwaves with television ads.

Still trailing Democratic frontrunners Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in polls, Bloomberg has quickly built a large campaign staff while releasing progressive proposals, including a pledge on Wednesday to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

But dogging his campaign are allegations that he had made inappropriate comments toward women and that his company, Bloomberg LP, fostered a hostile environment for female employees.

“Did I ever tell a bawdy joke? Yeah, sure I did. And do I regret it? Yes. It’s embarrassing,” Bloomberg, 77, told ABC’s “The View.” “But, you know, that’s the way I grew up.”

Bloomberg did not refer to specific jokes. ABC News reported in December that it had obtained a copy of a 32-page booklet distributed at a party in 1990 that included off-color and sexist remarks by Bloomberg reportedly compiled by his colleagues. The same report chronicled numerous discrimination lawsuits filed against the company over the last three decades.

Bloomberg LP is a major provider of financial information for Wall Street firms.

Bloomberg said his company has “very few” cases of sexual harassment given its large size.

“I think most people would say we’re a great place to work. At least I hope so. I can tell you that’s what I try to do,” he said.

In one notable instance, a saleswoman filed a lawsuit in 1997 alleging that when she told Bloomberg she was pregnant, his response was, “Kill it,” according to news reports at the time. Bloomberg at the time denied making the remark, and the lawsuit was settled, according to court records.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg said the company would not release women from non-disclosure agreements that were part of court settlements, some of which stemmed from allegations of sexual harassment by Bloomberg LP employees. One of Bloomberg’s rivals, Democratic U.S. Senator Warren, has called on Bloomberg to release the women from the agreements.

In an ongoing case in New York, the plaintiff asked a judge in December to invalidate her agreement with Bloomberg LP as well as any signed by other “similarly situated” individuals.

Reporting by Jason Lange in Washington; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler

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