TAMPA (WFLA) – Investigators say sexual harassment allegations made against the chairman of Tampa’s City Council appear to be “credible and corroborated,” city officials said Monday.
According to a City of Tampa spokesperson, a city employee filed a complaint with Tampa’s HR department last August about City Council Chairman Orlando Gudes. The complaint was about “pervasive abuse and sexual harassment,” according to the city.
“The alleged sexual harassment did not include sexual advances, but rather frequent offensive conduct and abuse,” the statement said.
The city hired Trenam Law as an independent, outside law firm in September to investigate the “19 specific allegations.” The spokesperson says some of the allegations against Gudes included crude sexual statements, sexual gestures and derogatory comments about multiple women. Gudes was also accused of calling an employee “Celie” – the name of a character who is abused in “The Color Purple.”
According to the city, the law firm interviewed 20 witnesses and concluded “the employee appeared to be credible and found several of the allegations corroborated by witnesses.”
“Trenam concluded that 18 of the 19 allegations appeared more likely than not to have occurred,” the city statement said.
According to the city, Gudes and his attorney denied that the chairman engaged in unlawful behavior and denied all the specific allegations. Gudes also apologized for any words that caused the employee discomfort, according to the attorney.
Gudes’ attorney said the chairman and the employee, “had been longtime friends before he hired them and that in hindsight, some of his comments were inappropriate.”
In a memorandum of law drafted after reviewing the investigative report and the response from Gudes’ attorney, Thomas Gonzalez – the outside counsel for Tampa’s HR department – wrote that, “it is my conclusion that the claimant has provided evidence demonstrating that she suffered harassment based on her sex.”
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor issued a statement Monday saying she has no authority over Gudes, but would fire him if he was a city employee.
“Since Orlando Gudes is an elected official, I have no authority over him. However, if he were a city employee, he would be fired over these credible and corroborated sexual harassment revelations,” Castor said. “I know from many years in law enforcement that it takes a great deal of courage for a victim to make harassment and hostile work environment allegations against any supervisor, let alone one as powerful as a city council chairman.”
The City of Tampa says the employee can file a complaint with the state.
Orlando Gudes issued a statement Monday following the announcement.
“While I disagree with the entirety of the findings in the report regarding my former Legislative
Aide, I do accept responsibility for comments that I made that, while not sexual harassment, were
not appropriate for the workplace.
I made the mistake of hiring a friend and not establishing new boundaries for the relationship
because the dynamic had changed. I take full responsibility for not recognizing this change. I
considered her a long-time family friend and I regularly socialized with her, her boyfriend, and
several other individuals, both before and during her employment. In addition, she and I worked
closely as she was my Legislative Aide since my election. These circumstances led me to make
jokes and comments that were not appropriate for the workplace but would not be uncommon
among old friends, which is what I considered us to be at the time. I sincerely apologize to my
former Legislative Aide for my words that caused her discomfort.
Many of the accusations are false and there are certain remarks that I have been accused of making
that I have denied and must continue to categorically deny. However, I admit that some of the
statements are true, though unfortunately taken out of context. Additionally, I believe there are
ways I can improve on effectively communicating with and managing others, and to assist me with
this, I have decided to engage the services of an Executive Coach, Gena Cox, PhD, at my own
expense. It is my hope that through this process I can further develop my own leadership skills and
workplace sensitivity so that I can be at my best to better serve my constituents and this City.
Again, I accept responsibility for my actions and apologize for the comments. I intend to learn
from this experience, I intend to be a better person, and I intend to be a better Councilman and role
model in my community.”