Friday, January 4, 2019

Florida Senate uses $900,000 in taxpayer money for settlement in discrimination lawsuit

Posted By on Fri, Jan 4, 2019 at 10:29 AM

More than a year after sexual-harassment allegations brought down a powerful lawmaker, the Florida Senate has reached a $900,000 settlement with a legislative aide who said she was harassed and later faced retaliation.

The settlement came in a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case filed by aide Rachel Perrin Rogers. As part of the settlement, Perrin Rogers submitted her resignation effective Friday.

The Senate denied any wrongdoing in the case, which involved Perrin Rogers’ allegations that she faced discrimination and retaliation after accusing former Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala of sexual harassment.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, released a statement late Thursday that said an administrative law judge “recommended mediation as a solution that would bring a more timely resolution to what had already become a protracted and public employment matter.”

“President Galvano believed the matter would continue to negatively impact the parties and distract from the important work of the Senate, while legal fees mounted for all involved,” Betta said. “For those reasons, President Galvano authorized the recent mediation which led to the settlement. The settlement brings this matter to a conclusion that allows both parties to move forward.”

Perrin Rogers said in a text message that her only comment is “what was stated in my resignation letter,” which was submitted to her boss, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

“Having the opportunity to assist as you’ve served your constituents has been an honor,” Perrin Rogers wrote to Simpson, who is expected to become Senate president in 2020. “I feel an immense sadness that at this time I am no longer able to do this work for you in the Senate. Thank you for your unwavering support.”

Perrin Rogers’ attorney fees will be paid from the $900,000, according to the settlement.

The resignation letter and settlement were dated Dec. 19. Senate attorneys notified a federal judge Dec. 20 about the settlement, but Betta said at the time the Senate could not release the settlement details until the EEOC case and a related lawsuit were formally resolved.

Perrin Rogers filed the complaint with the EEOC in January 2018 after a highly publicized series of events that led to the resignation of Latvala.

Perrin Rogers alleged in late 2017 that Latvala had harassed her, triggering the Senate to appoint a special master to investigate the accusations. The special master, former state appellate Judge Ronald Swanson, found probable cause to support Perrin Rogers’ allegations —- though Latvala has denied them. Perrin Rogers subsequently filed the EEOC complaint against the Senate, alleging in part that she faced retaliation.

The Senate filed a federal lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction to block an administrative law judge from requiring the Senate's participation in the EEOC case. After the settlement was reached in December, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle denied the request for a preliminary injunction because he said it was moot.

—— News Service senior writer Dara Kam contributed to this report.

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