Sexual Harassment notification e-mail
sent to Palmetto's Human Resources director.
Lisa Palmer thought she had found that perfect job, and she was admired by the people who worked with her.
But there was a problem, she complained. "I am not the only blonde that Frank likes to touch inappropriately," she wrote to Palmetto's Human Resources director about her supervisor, Frank E. Woodard II, the assistant director of public works. Palmer, a 43-year-old planning technician, had received high praise for her job performance in her periodic review.
But not from Woodard. After allegedly receiving repeated unwanted attention from him, Palmer documented her complaints in an April 23, 2007, e-mail to Sharon Jones, the city's HR director.
"Since my start here at public works I have had to make sure that I am able to put something between myself and Frank (i.e. my desk) or make sure someone else is in the office," Palmer wrote.
"If I am walking down the hallway he will not move out of the way so that I must either ask him to move or pass close enough by him that he can reach out and stroke my arm or something. Other employees have also noticed him going out of his way to come into an office where I may be standing in and grab my arm etc," she wrote.
In a meeting with Jones on April 25, 2007, Woodard said he was "shocked and felt blindsided" by Palmer's accusations. He "adamantly denied these allegations and said he would never do anything inappropriate to any employee at the city, and he also stated that he was sorry, and he would apologize to Ms. Palmer," Jones wrote in the Harassment / Discrimination Complaint Disposition form.
The alleged harassment was not limited to Woodard's treatment of Palmer. In sworn testimony Palmer talked about her co-worker Laura Logue, "Laura had some of the same problems with Frank, um, and we were friends because we were under the same stress."
And what exactly was that daily stress like working in the Public Works Department under Woodard?
Palmer goes on to testify, "I just remember the working environment being like a post-traumatic stress. You know, really, you just went in and kept your head down and hoped that you got through the day."
Click to play the sworn testimony:
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The city of Palmetto's Personnel Policy Manual has five pages outlining the definition and the consequences of harassment, including sexual harassment, by a city employee (City code: Section 4.07). The manual outlines the definitions of "sexual harassment and any other type of harassment or discriminatory conduct" and the procedures to handle harassment situations.
On April 26, 2007, in a memo directed to Palmetto Mayor Larry Bustle, Jones wrote, "I do not recommend that an internal investigation be conducted."
The city's Policy Manual states that in cases where the decision is made to not investigate, that decision will be reviewed by the mayor. Bustle concurred that no investigation was warranted.
The unsigned open letter to
former Mayor Larry Bustle.
Many of the Public Works employees had a different opinion on the matter.
They were allegedly so enraged about the abuse of their co-workers by their superiors that on May 12, 2007, they wrote an open letter to Bustle, reminding him "of some of the serious offenses being committed at the Public Works Department. People coming to work drunk and nothing is done about it. We guess it's because one of them is the director of Public Works. His language is about as foul as it could possibly get."
The most damaging allegations written by these workers in their letter emphasized their simmering anger over the sexual harassment that was allegedly allowed within the Public Works Department.
"Two ladies have submitted sexual harassment, racism and intimidation letters to the HR director, and it has been swept under the rug," the workers wrote. "The ladies have been placed under the supervision of the offender, Frank Woodard."
The letter was hand-delivered to Bustle.
The result? The alleged victims were punished. The alleged offender was exonerated.
Four months after she and her fellow employees exposed the offenses, Palmer was fired on Sept. 28, 2007, with an appraisal in her personnel file stating she "was discharged for failing to meet the employer's performance."
Just six months before, in March 2007, Palmer's immediate supervisor, Ron Koper, praised her performance: "You are a valuable asset," he wrote.
More allegations of harassment
In sworn testimony in March 2009, former Public Works employee James Rowland corroborated that the alleged sexual harassment was a problem in the department.
Investigator: What's his name?
Rowland: His name is Frank Woodard.
Investigator: Frank Woodard. Okay.
Rowland: With, um, various employees, female employees, and, um, those were the facts that, um, got swept under the carpet or rug per-se. And I never understood why he wasn't let go for those particular, uh, advances that he had made on those certain employees.
Investigator: Okay, was that like sexual harassment advances?
Rowland: Harassment, yes.
Rowland also named another alleged victim of sexual harassment by Woodard. "Edna Garcia used to work in the building department before she, uh, left on her own terms. Um, apparently she had told me that he had made advances on her," Rowland said in sworn testimony.
Rowland alleged that Garcia told him about Woodard's advances on more than one occasion, and that she was very upset about it and very vocal about it. "Touching is probably what it was," Rowland testified.
Public Works employee George Fountain alleged that Woodard also verbally harassed Logue. In sworn testimony Fountain talks about events that can be described as the Woodard creating an intimidating, hostile work environment.
Fountain: I worked for a young lady named Laura Logue. Uh, she is no longer with the city of Palmetto. Um, just an absolute great person. Um, she was just, uh, scrutinized over everything that she did. She tried to do everything by the book. Um, she was very much, uh, harassed within the field that she was working in. She was working directly under Frank Woodard. And I know, um, through conversation because I was in that office area. My office was just off to the side of her, that every time something happened there was always closed door. Frank would close the door and reprimand her or talk to her or do whatever. And I really felt bad for her because there were times she came out and you can see that she was just really really upset.
After working for just a year at the Public Works Department and getting a "valued Performer" rating, on Nov. 15, 2007, Logue quit her $49,967 project manager position. Soon after her departure, the Bradenton Public Works Department hired her.
|Frank E. Woodard II's
Woodard continues to work for the city's Public Works Department. On May 16, 2008, he received a note from then-Public Works director Chris Lukowiak: "Keep up the good work."
Woodard is married, has two children and is presently studying to be a minister. He is a 1994 civil engineering graduate from Florida A&M University. Hired in 2004, he is the highest-level black employee in the department, now earning $64,455 a year as the department's assistant director. Woodard has received praise for his job performance. "Frank is a professional and acts accordingly," Lukowiak wrote.
When confronted with the accusation that he sexually harassed several female ex-employees, Woodard's sole response was "Not several."
Woodard refused to elaborate and would not consent to further questions unless he had a lawyer, supervisor and tape recorder present. When these terms were agreed to and a reporter met with Woodard with his inoperable tape recorder and, as witness, Public Works Director Allen Tusing. Woodard gave no further explanations about the multiple sexual harassment charges in an interview lasting 13 minutes.
Under a 1991 congressional amendment to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, victims can recover compensatory damages. Employers are liable when either their supervisors or agents create a hostile environment, or if employers knew or should have known of the sexual harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.
The Florida Legislature in 1992 amended the law to outlaw unwanted sexual advances.
Just weeks ago, Hillsborough County was forced to pay $278,000 to the victim of sexual harassment by County Commissioner Kevin White (Hillsborough Settles Official's Suit - St. Petersburg Times, 9/25/2009).
Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, was outraged by the sexual harassment allegations in the Palmetto Public Works Department.
"If these women have daughters, it behooves them to stand up and demand justice," Zdravecky said. "If not, their daughters will just roll over and take the abuse."
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