TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The City of Tampa has agreed to pay a settlement to a former legislative aide following an independent investigation that indicated Councilman Orlando Gudes engaged in sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment.
Under the settlement, the city will pay $200,000 to the complainant for lost wages and compensatory damages. In return, the complainant released any and all claims against the city. The release includes all current and former officials and employees of the city, with the exception of Gudes, for any intentional acts he committed outside the scope of his duties and not for a public purpose.
According to the City of Tampa, the settlement was the result of mediation between the city and the employee. It came just one day after a lawsuit was filed by the former aide, alleging abuse toward her, her daughter and college-age interns. The lawsuit, filed by Tampa attorney Ethan Loeb on behalf of the the former aide and her daughter, unveiled details of the sexual harassment allegations made against Gudes last August. Gudes stepped down as chair of the City Council in March after an investigator found claims made against him to be “credible and corroborated.”
Normally that would lead to discipline against the employee found to have been abusive, but in this case the city has no authority to discipline an elected city council member. While Gudes still faces a private lawsuit, the settlement allows the city to move forward and releases all other city employees from any potential liability.
“While we wait for the day when one of the most courageous people living in Tampa can tell her story to a jury and hold Mr. Gudes accountable, we are thankful to receive some justice for the victim. Today, the City of Tampa acknowledged the hostile work environment Mr. Gudes created,” said Tampa lawyer Ethan Loeb, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the former legislative aide. “To date, this man, who still sits as an elected official, has cost the taxpayers $300,000 to investigate, validate, and resolve her discrimination claims. This settlement is a step in the right direction, but the fight is far from over. We aim to hold Mr. Gudes responsible for his actions and the damage he has caused to the victim and her child, who is a minor. The City’s settlement and apology letter are proof of Mr. Gudes’ wrongdoing. The victim intends to dedicate a portion of the settlement proceeds to The Spring of Tampa Bay and the United Negro College Fund.”
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor also issued an apology letter to the former aide, documents show.
“On behalf of the City of Tampa, we sincerely apologize for the outrageous acts and misdeeds that City Councilman Orlando Gudes directed to you and your daughter while serving as a legislative aide. Through its internal investigation, the City came to learn that Councilman Gudes created a hostile workplace that does not represent the high ethical standards and positive environment that the City seeks to promote for its employees. Nobody should have experienced the emotional turmoil and pain that you suffered. Your courage to stand up for what was morally and legally correct should be applauded by all of our employees. I certainly encourage all victims of discrimination to find the determination to speak out so that nobody encounters the kind of treatment that Councilman Gudes inflicted on you. As I previously expressed to the public, Councilman Gudes would have already been terminated had he been a City employee. The City is grateful to have resolved this portion of the dispute with you and we wish you the continued success as a loyal and long-time public servant.”Tampa Mayor Jane Castor
Gudes’ attorney, Ryan Barack responded to the settlement with the following statement, “Councilmember Gudes was just informed, through the media, that the City has purportedly reached a settlement agreement with his former legislative aide. It is important to remember that there has been no sworn testimony from anyone. Further, this purported agreement is designed to protect the Mayor, the City Attorney and their Human Resources department and was entered into prior to any lawsuit being filed. Just as the administration did not notify Councilmember Gudes of any alleged complaint for over a year, they also concealed these settlement negotiations from Councilmember Gudes or the City Council. Councilmember Gudes also learned this week, again through the media, that a lawsuit has been filed against him. This lawsuit was filed on Monday after the administration entered into this purported agreement with the former aide and her lawyer. Councilmember Gudes intends to vigorously defend all claims and will respond to the allegations at the appropriate time and in the proper forum.”
The lawsuit filed earlier this week claimed Gudes harmed the plaintiffs in several ways. It sought $30,000 in damages.
The lawsuit also alleged that Gudes does not live in District 5, which he represents, and is required by the city charter. Instead, the lawsuit claims Gudes lives in District 7 and claims homestead exemption there.
Gudes’ attorney denied those claims in a statement. “Councilmember Gudes moved into District 5 in March 2018, well in advance of the 2019 election, and his residence has remained in District 5 throughout his term. His address is protected by Florida law. He recently became aware of an issue associated with a piece of property he owns and where he formerly resided. Upon becoming aware of the issue he promptly took steps to address any concerns associated with that property and anticipates the matter being resolved in the near future,” Ryan Barack said in an emailed statement.