Thursday, September 27, 2018

High-profile witnesses called in Florida Senate discrimination case filed by Latvala accuser

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2018 at 10:22 AM

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and four high-ranking senators —- including President Joe Negron —- are among the witnesses being asked to testify in a discrimination case filed by legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who accuses the Senate of retaliation after she filed a sexual harassment complaint last year against former Sen. Jack Latvala.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who held the powerful post of Senate budget chief and was a candidate for governor when Perrin Rogers’ allegations against him first came out, resigned from the Senate shortly before the legislative session began in January. He has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

Latvala is among the witnesses Tiffany Cruz, a lawyer who represents Perrin Rogers, is asking to appear at a Jan. 14 federal administrative-court hearing in Tampa, according to court documents first reported Wednesday by Politico Florida.

The list of witnesses gives just a glimpse into the allegations made by Perrin Rogers, who filed the discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January.



One of the witnesses is Jean Seawright, who was hired by the Senate to conduct an investigation into Perrin Rogers after the aide filed the complaint against Latvala, according to court documents. Senate Special Master Ronald Swanson, who investigated Perrin Rogers’ allegations against Latvala, is also on the witness list.

Negron, a Stuart Republican who is leaving office after the November elections, “has knowledge that complainant suffered retaliation for making a report of sexual harassment,” Cruz wrote in a four-page list of witnesses submitted Tuesday to U.S. Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernández.

The Senate president denied anyone punished Perrin Rogers, a high-ranking aide who works for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, after she complained about Latvala.

“The complaint of sexual harassment in this case was immediately and fully investigated. At all times the Senate has acted appropriately and there has been no retaliation,” Negron said in a text message Wednesday.

But Cruz told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday that “there has been constant retaliation” against Perrin Rogers since she first complained about Latvala last fall. And the retaliation got worse after Swanson’s report was completed and the Senate aide filed her discrimination complaint, Cruz said.

“Instead, what we’ve seen happen here is the Senate has taken almost no action as the employer to protect Rachel when the retaliation was happening, and then subsequent to the investigation, they’ve actively taken steps to treat her differently as a result of her complaint,” she said.

The investigation into Latvala came amid a national spotlight on revelations of sexual harassment lodged against powerful men in Hollywood, business and politics that led to the demise of entertainment-industry titans such as Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Les Moonves. This week’s court filings come as Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, faces accusations by three women who say he sexually harassed them or others while in high school or college.

“The message that women are receiving, to me, is you become a pariah for saying something about any type of misconduct that’s happening to you by a man, especially by a man of power. If you say something too late, you get attacked for that. If you say something right away, you get attacked for that. So essentially the message is, be silent, or these are the consequences,” Cruz said.

Cruz is also calling Bondi, Florida’s first female attorney general who is leaving office due to term limits, as a witness. Bondi, a Republican, is aware of Perrin Rogers’ allegations of sexual harassment and “has direct knowledge of the retaliation that complainant was experiencing after reporting sexual harassment,” Cruz wrote in the witness list.

Other witnesses include state Sen. Lauren Book, D- Plantation; Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers; and Simpson, R-Trilby. Book filed a complaint with the Rules Committee, accusing Latvala of essentially “outing” Perrin Rogers to the press. Senate Sergeant at Arms Tim Hay, lobbyist Nancy Black-Stewart, and Negron’s former chief of staff Cheri Vancura are also on the list.

Cruz is also asking George Meros, a lawyer who was the Senate’s legal counsel in the Latvala sexual-harassment probe, to testify under oath.

Meros has knowledge of Perrin Rogers’ reports of retaliation since filing her sexual harassment complaint and EEOC allegations and “has knowledge of his actions related to the retaliation complainant has endured since filing her complaints,” Cruz wrote.

Cruz said Meros was responsible for the probe into Perrin Rogers, launched after a former Senate employee filed a complaint against her. Cruz said she has been unable to find out from the Senate whether the investigation has been completed.

Perrin Rogers’ allegations against Latvala, the subsequent investigation and Latvala’s resignation rocked the Senate before the start of this year’s legislative session.

Late last year, Swanson found probable cause to support nearly all of the allegations lodged against Latvala by Perrin Rogers, who accused the veteran lawmaker of making inappropriate comments about her body and groping her on several occasions.

While Latvala denied harassing Perrin Rogers, he admitted having an extramarital affair with former lobbyist Laura McLeod, whose testimony prompted Swanson to recommend a criminal probe into whether Latvala had broken state laws by promising legislative favors in exchange for sex.

In July, Jack Campbell, the state attorney in Leon County, found there was not enough “evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Latvala was unlawfully compensated or rewarded for his official behavior as a Florida senator.”

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