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Broward sex harassment probe leads to suspensions

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Broward Water and Wastewater Services web site banner

By Dan Christensen, Broward Bulldog
 
Four Broward water and sewer employees – including three managers – have been suspended without pay after an internal investigation of sexual harassment allegations found widespread workplace misconduct.

The division’s assistant director was reprimanded, and a mechanic was fired for refusing a reassignment prompted by his role in the matter, according to Water and Wastewater Services director Alan Garcia.

“The work environment at WWS is permeated with managers, supervisors and their subordinates engaging in inappropriate behavior and language of a sexual nature,” says a nine-page report by the county’s professional standards office. It also said supervisory staff has not reported harassment complaints up the chain of command as required by county policy.

WWS, a division of Broward’s Public Works Department, employs nearly 400 people.

Three of the four who drew five-day suspensions two weeks ago have filed grievances with their unions.

“This went from the investigation of a legitimate complaint to a witch hunt,” said Richard Cutshaw, union representative of Local 100 of the Government Supervisors Association of Florida. “Discipline was imposed based on vague statements that didn’t say when did this happen and what was the context.”A grievance hearing will be held Oct. 20 before Broward’s Director of Public Works Thomas Hutka.

Garcia, however, said he agrees completely with the Aug. 10 report’s findings and recommendations, which includes additional training.

“We don’t tolerate this kind of behavior in our organization,” Garcia said.

While the report doesn’t pinpoint where the incidents occurred, many of the 19 people questioned in the probe worked at what’s known as District 4, the North Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant at 2401 N. Powerline Road in Pompano Beach.

The county defines sexual harassment as any “unwanted and unwelcome” behavior that “debilitates morale, thereby interfering with work effectiveness.” Likewise, actions that are not sexual in nature but create a hostile environment because of gender are also prohibited.

Busting chops

Garcia said the report, written by Investigator Steven Patterson, reveals a “longstanding culture” at the plant where employees “are busting each other’s chops and cracking jokes and things that they should not have been doing.”

The investigation began in April on a complaint by a maintenance scheduler who alleged harassment by two mechanics who asked him whether he was gay.

The report then devolves into a discussion of who said what, and what life is like in the plant’s break room where the entertainment has included watching the Maury Povich show and cracking sexual jokes about “chubby chasers” and the “Chi Chi Man,” the title of a Jamaican song about a gay man.

The report determined that mechanics John Warner and Thomas Pawlicki Jr. violated the county’s sexual harassment policy. Warner was dismissed when he refused a transfer, Garcia said.

“According to Mr. Warner, he feels like a scapegoat because the joking ‘has been going on for 20-30 years,’ and he wasn’t doing anything different than the rest of the staff,” the report says.

Pawlicki denied the scheduler’s allegation, but was suspended and transferred after a finding that he has a “history” of violating the county’s sexual harassment policy. He is appealing his one-week suspension.
Also, the report found that the scheduler’s supervisor, Curtis Preece, failed to notify higher-ups of the problem and also “engaged in inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature.” Preece was suspended for a week, demoted one pay grade and transferred. He also filed a grievance.

The report doesn’t stop there. After recounting “numerous instances of inappropriate comments and behavior of a sexual nature” by other employees – including a heavy dose of gay name-calling and raw references to gay sex acts – it recommended action be taken against others, like Preece, who were not accused of anything by the scheduler.

Assistant Division Director Clive Haynes, Plant Superintendent Ralph Aliseo and Chief Plant Operator Persad  Bissessar “have all been observed engaging in inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature,” the report says. Haynes was reprimanded for not bringing such matters to the attention of higher-ups. Aliseo and Bissessar were suspended for a week. Aliseo served his suspension and did not appeal, Garcia said. Bissessar filed a grievance.

Union representative Cutshaw acknowledged times have changed regarding such talk, but added “this is not an office setting.

“The people that made these decisions are in offices. So they are offended. But a lot of guys, to cut stress and get through the day, sometimes make comments, but nobody takes offense,” he said.

The report had a final suggestion to county bosses: Yank the television in the break room – or limit it to the county’s channel – because it “may be contributing and supporting the inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature.”

A WWS employee said the television has been removed.

County brass hopes the message that’s being sent gets through.

“Everybody’s been given the word that they better knock it off now,” Garcia said.

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  • Broward County Mass Transit fired one employee and suspended three others for sexual harassment a few months back. It sounds like a rampant problem in county government.

  • Great article. FOr more information on employee rights, especially those in Florida, check out our employee rights blog http://www.takethisjobnshoveitblog.com.

  • Have to have been in the military or sports to understand an environment like the one described. Sounds like a witch hunt in this case but Joe, you are wrong about Mass Transit – that wasn’t for sexual harrassement, that was for steering contracts to favored vendors for personal gain. Need to educate yourself before making comments. It’s a sensitive world we live in now but people have to understand that their rights end where another’s begin.

  • Broward County Mass Transit fired ONE employee and may or may NOT have suspended three others
    for Sexual Harassment a few months back. No one really knows if the suspensions were actually carried out. One Assistant Superintendent has consistently been allowed to “Appeal” his suspensions. He was caught taking home county cars, he was then promoted. He has use of a county car for county business and that appears to include going to the golf course, Publix and anywhere else requiring a vehicle. He doesn’t own a personal vehicle. He has been “warned” several times to stop. One of the others involved has been promoted. And the Superintendent in charge of the Office who received a one day suspension for allowing and participating in the sexual harassment remains in position.
    ONE person was fired, the low man on the totem pole.
    Business as usual at BCT.

  • We can always count on the govt to be decades behind private industry. The reason for the toilet mouths is the lack of fear of job loss. Private industry long ago realized the legal ramifications of sexual harrasment at work. Absent union protection, employees realized they better shut up during the 9 to 5.

    But its all new to the govt employee. Their jobs should be protected because “everyone else is doing it”. And it probably will, thanks to the payola between the govt and the unions.

    WE NEED LEADERSHIP WHO WILL RETURN AMERICA TO ITS CITIZENS.

  • There’s a LOT more going on at Mass Transit than just sexual harassment.
    And are you SURE the suspensions were served?

  • One of the suspended BCT employees, an Assistant Superintendent, was also suspended (not fired!) a while back for stealing a county vehicle. He was then given a promotion as well. Business as usual at BCT.

  • No Jackie the suspensions were for sexual harassment. They never made it to the public forum. In the steering contracts to favored vendors for personal gain case, or as we call it, the boondoggling the county commission out of $13.1 million dollars case, one employee resigned with no criminal charges filed as of yet. Unless you yourself are aware of the facts sweetheart, do not assume that others are not as well. There is much more going on at BCT than gets out into the public eye, even the county commission is turning a blind eye to the nonsense going on there. It’s a farce, it’s unprofessional, and it’s criminal!

  • Ahh, the usual inaccturate speculations and inaccurate hearsay ommentary from people outside the loop (sigh). As ifyou’re doing the public a favor by posting “what you know” (or lack there of) on a blog.

    Here’s the real story: Joe, you were right bro. Jackie, get your info right BEFORE YOU POST. Members of Mass Transit were reprimanded for sexual harassment. This included sending sexually and racially charged emails to one another and management within Transit. I hear they even doctored a profile to include some quite offensive commentary about a co-worker.

    Funny how the union rep admits that this is common practice on the job for these employees. So because it’s common practice, even though it is a blatant violation of COunty policy, these guys should NOT be reprimanded. That it’s okay because “it helps the time pass and no one is offended”. NEWS FLASH: Someone was offended (ie the investigation).

    Should the investigator have only stuck to the allegations and ignored the fact that others were violating county, state and federal laws? Yes, the Union Rep is the right person for the job.

    What a great day and time, where someone can openly admit to violations and be punished for it and then have the opportunityto apeal the decision.

  • Although I disagree with the condescending “sweetheart” remark I do thank those of you on here like Joe that speak out against the overwhelming amount of abusive sexual harassment and retaliation going on in the public sector. I was a victim of it for three years and that is definitly an “inside point of view”. There are some seriously bad people people out there. People who are supposed to serve and protect the public. I wouldn’t trust some of them with any of my loved ones. That’s not to say there arn’t dedicated public servants in south Florida, but most of the good ones have to remain silent in a culture of fear. The EEOC is a joke and the system is set up to work against the victim. I was surprised to see this particular agency be proactive. My experience was very different. The city where I worked in North Lauderdale used every trick in the book to twist, deny, cover and manipulate everything that was reported. Over a period of almost three years multiple reports of harassment, pictures, text messages, and emails were turned over to the HR Department and City Manager and the city failed to assist. Things got so bad I felt I had to start documenting everything. I had never been through anything like this. Very clean background. The frustration grew as things over there got worse. Eventually, someone with access tampered with my in-service firefighting breathing gear. Again an unprofessional, inadequate investigation followed. The city refused to communicate with regards to various administrative issues and I felt ignored, alienated, and unsafe. After three years of trying to make the best of things and begging for help I resigned my position under duress in fear for my life safety and well being. The city paid their big expensive attorneys to fight the awarded unemployment. So even though these people actually stole money from me and put me through hell now I had to pay back what the state gave. Believe me they’re getting about $5.00 per month for years because of the injustice. On top of that after an eight year career as a dedicated Firefighter EMT-P I am starting over. No lawsuit was ever filed because I never had adequate, proper help or advice despite endless effort. Lastly, i’ve had to take a 30% hit on my retirement and can never be part of the FRS ever again. And my harassers continue to enjoy a paycheck. Even though it only shows some of the tangible, proveable things and not the day in and day out abusive, unprofessional behavior after my gear was tampered with we did a somewhat therapeutic video on youtube. Search female firefighter and harassment. This type of behavior is at the very least “conduct unbecoming”. Sexual harassment isn’t just someone “touching you” or “sending unwanted advances”. Although there is that to! It’s also creating a work environment that’s so sick, twisted, and anti-female that people in general (normal descent people) would be repulsed. Like I said, there’s a few over at NLFR I would never want caring for anyone I love. Sexual harassment in any form is WRONG and should NEVER be tolerated or made light of. One last thing, evil thrives when good men (and women) fail and do nothing.

  • I AM TOM PAWLICKI JR AND I TOOK THESE CHARGES TO COURT. AT WHICH TIME. THE MAN I WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE HARASSED BROKE DOWN AND SAID THAT HE WAS FORCED TO IMPLICATE ME BY BROWARD COUNTY OFFICE OF PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS. I AM NOT GUILTY. BUT I NO LONGER WORK FOR BROWARD COUNTY

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