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County IG Issues Final Report on HR's Handling of Employee Complaint


BRADENTON — The Manatee County Clerk of Court’s Division of the Inspector General published a final report this week on an investigation undertaken into Manatee County’s Department of Human Resources handling of an employee's sexual harassment complaint. The report did not investigate the validity of the complainant’s allegation, but rather HR’s handling of the complaint and whether department policies and procedures were followed.

In late 2022, a county employee alleged that they were the victim of “uninvited” physical contact by an individual who had been confirmed as Mitchel Teitelbaum, the county’s newest deputy county administrator. Notes taken of the employee’s initial verbal complaint, and later in a written complaint, state that the incident had occurred on the ninth floor of the county administrative building following the BOCC meeting where the board of commissioners unanimously confirmed Teitelbaum as deputy county administrator.

The incident was first reported to HR employee Zach Ribble verbally on Dec. 5, and then again verbally to Manatee County’s former HR department director Jennifer Harmon the following day. The complainant requested a meeting with HR to report the incident on Dec. 2, by email.

The IG was able to confirm through its investigation that on Dec. 5, when the employee first reported the incident to HR verbally, former county administrator Scott Hopes was informed by HR of the allegations made against his incoming deputy.

A week after having submitted the complaint to HR verbally, the victim then completed and submitted a written complaint form detailing the incident.

"I am filling out this form as I was not asked to sign a complaint form and want to make [sure] the complaint is documented in writing in addition to my verbal complaints to HR," the complainant included on the form.

Details of the alleged incident included, "Unwanted/uninvited contact of a sexual nature such as grabbing around the waist and pulling close to/against his body making me uncomfortable."

On Dec. 13, 2022, following the complaint having been submitted in written form to HR, it was reported that the alleged victim had been ordered to be reassigned to a position elsewhere in the county, while her supervisor, Records Manager Debbie Scaccianoce, was told she was being placed on administrative leave.

Later that same afternoon, Teitelbaum sent county administration an email withdrawing his prior acceptance of the position of deputy county administrator.

While the IG’s investigation never sought to determine the veracity of the complaint itself, based upon the nature of the alleged incident as reported by the complainant, the IG concluded, “With respect to the complaint made by the alleged victim, the individual clearly made allegations of conduct that may constitute sexual harassment under the Illegal Discrimination or Harassment policy as listed at Xlll.B.4 which states “examples of conduct which may constitute sexual harassment may include, but are not limited to, the following: (h) uninvited physical contact of a sexual nature such as pinching, grabbing, patting or brushing against another person.”

Based on that finding, the IG was able to determine that the complaint and details within it required specific response from HR in accordance with HR policies and applicable laws.

The IG’s findings include that regardless of the complaint having initially only been submitted to HR verbally, HR employee Ribble appropriately launched an investigation into the incident as alleged by the complainant.

“In this instance, Mr. Ribble acted appropriately upon receiving the verbal complaint from the alleged victim and Ms. Scaccianoce,” the IG’s report included.

However, the IG also determined that the HR department’s written policies stated that a complaint must be “in writing and timely.” Based on the conflict between laws that require an employer to investigate all complaints whether submitted verbally or in writing—as Ribble had appropriately done—the IG recommended the county revise its HR policy language accordingly to include that a complaint must not be “in writing” to be investigated.

During an interview with Hopes by the IG, the former administrator appeared to believe, however, that because the complaint was not submitted in writing, it was not an “official” or “formal.”

When the alleged victim was questioned by the IG, she reported having overheard former HR director Harmon stating similarly as Hopes—that the complaint was not an “official” complaint because it was not in writing. The victim stated that when she overhead Harmon’s comments it moved her to put her complaint in writing for fear the incident would go unaddressed if she did not. 

According to statements provided to the IG, the alleged victim had originally reported the incident to Scaccianoce and the deputy county administrator over her division, Reinshuttle, before reporting it to HR. 

“The alleged victim also immediately reported the incident to Mr. Reinshuttle and also reported it to Ms. Scaccianoce… Mr. Reinshuttle apparently did not bring it to HR’s attention, in violation of required policy, but records and testimony are clear that Ms. Scaccianoce contacted HR on Monday, December 5 in accordance with policy as she is a managerial employee who became aware of a complaint,” the IG found.

Based on the IG’s investigation, the date of the alleged incident appears to have been initially confused by the complainant. When the alleged victim submitted the complaint in writing, she alleged the incident had occurred the same day that Teitelbaum had been confirmed by the BOCC, but through its work, the IG was able to determine the correct date for the allegation would have been the next day.

Another employee, Agenda Coordinator Quantana Acevedo, told the IG that she had identified the mistake and had attempted to inform HR about the discrepancy. According to Acevedo, she and another employee named as a witness on the written complaint, Leslie Kearns, could not have been on the 9th floor to witness the incident had it occurred the same day that Teitelbaum had been confirmed. That day there was a BOCC meeting and Kearns would have attended the meeting for its duration.

Teitelbaum also confirmed in his statements to the IG that it was the day after his confirmation, Nov. 30, that he was on the 9th floor with his paralegal—the day prior he had only been accompanied by his wife for the confirmation.

The alleged victim listed Teitelbaum's paralegal as a "witness" on the written complaint form, identifying the paralegal had been present at the time of the alleged incident. 

The reported findings include, “It seemingly should have been apparent to HR that the incident would have occurred on the 30th and not the 29th by the people present.” 

Records showed Teitelbaum had been issued a county employee access badge on Dec. 1—more than two weeks prior to his official start date—and had used the key swipe card to come and go from the administration floor of the building on several days following his confirmation by the BOCC. 

In its recommendations to the county, the IG stated in the report, “Access badges should not be given out prior to someone becoming an official employee of the county.”

According to other details gathered in the course of the IG’s investigation, Hopes had been the one who issued the directive that Scaccianoce should be placed on administrative leave. Hopes’ told the IG that he made the order because he suspected Scaccianoce and Reinshuttle were “setting up” Teitelbaum.

Hopes alleged that it was his belief that Scaccianoce and Reinshuttle were attempting to access camera footage and records, and taking other measures in an attempt to “investigate” the employee’s allegations themself, and “improperly injecting themselves where they should not be.'' Hopes told the IG that he wanted HR to investigate whether the two may have been “colluding with” or pressuring the employee to submit the complaint against Teitelbaum.

“The situation deteriorated when Dr. Hopes deemed it not an “official” complaint or that the alleged victim was not "really" upset because the complaint was not in writing. It also deteriorated further due to Dr. Hopes’ suspicions that Mr. Reinshuttle and Ms. Scaccianoce did not want Mr. Teitelbaum employed at the county and would fabricate this incident to prevent Mr. Teitelbaum from becoming a Deputy County Administrator. There was no evidence of any fabrication or collusion. Although Mr. Reinshuttle did not timely report to HR, Ms. Scaccianoce clearly did and was attempting to assist the alleged victim,” the report states.

Harmon and Hopes’ statements to the IG as to why the alleged victim was reassigned on the same day that Scaccianoce was placed on leave were “contradictory” according to the report—though some details in regards to the statements are redacted from the IG’s report in order to protect the identity of the complainant.

Because the decisions regarding Scaccianoce and the alleged victim’s positions were later reversed that same evening—after work hours—the IG determined that neither had ultimately been subjected to acts of retaliation. Though the IG’s report also stated that had those directives not been reversed, the reassignment and administrative leave may have ultimately “appeared as retaliatory” in response to the complaint having been filed against Teitelbaum.

Concluding its findings, the IG investigator wrote, “It seems that the handling of the complaint resulted from a perfect storm of condensed timing, Mr. Teitelbaum’s presence in the building before actually starting employment, Mr. Ribble going on vacation, suspicion by Dr. Hopes of Mr. Reinshuttle and Ms. Scaccianoce, and Ms. Harmon following instructions from Dr. Hopes without independently verifying his concerns. As stated above, County HR acted appropriately in beginning the investigation immediately upon receiving the verbal complaint from the alleged victim.”

Several witnesses who were referenced in the IG's final report are no longer employed by the county, including Scott Hopes, Robert Reinshuttle, Jennifer Harmon, and Lauren Grubb who was Hopes’ assistant at the time of the incident. Grubb resigned from her position in early Feb., prior to Hopes' "voluntary" resignation.

Debbie Scaccianoce, the county's former records manager, was terminated on Aug. 4, the day following the BOCC having appointed Charlie Bishop to the role of acting county administrator.  

Multiple sources recently alleged to TBT  that the employee who originally submitted the harassment complaint was also terminated by the county this past Friday—two days after the IG's report was published on the Clerk of Court website. Multiple attempts by TBT to reach the county's PIO to confirm the information and to establish whether the firing was "with or without cause" went unanswered Saturday.  

To read the IG's final report on the "Human Resources Process Investigation" in full, click here


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  • Cat L

    Ok, that's shady AF. It is disturbing to me how dismissive those men were to the complaint. The normalization of boundary violations and gaslighting is what I was hoping to move away from..... But evidently there are some folks who think that's the way to go. I had cause to file a complaint at a company I worked for years ago. They took it seriously, acted on it immediately and treated everyone involved with respect and professionalism. That's how it SHOULD go.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2023 Report this