TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa City Council Chairman Orlando Gudes has been accused of sexually harassing a female employee he supervised.
In a press release, the City of Tampa said a city employee went to the HR department "about pervasive abuse and sexual harassment" by Gudes, who is her supervisor, in August 2021.
"The alleged sexual harassment did not include sexual advances, but rather frequent offensive conduct and abuse," the City said about the allegation.
Although Chairman Gudes is "an elected official who does not report to the mayor, the city attorney, or any other official of the city of Tampa," on Sept. 14, the city hired an outside law firm, Trenam Law, to investigate.
Trenam Law documented 19 separate allegations, which included:
- Chairman Gudes making crude sexual statements
- Chairman Gudes making sexual gestures
- Chairman Gudes making derogatory comments about multiple women
- Chairman Gudes calling the employee “Celie,” the name of a character constantly abused in The Color Purple
Throughout their investigation, Trenam interviewed 20 witnesses, including Chairman Gudes.
"It concluded that the employee appeared to be credible and found several of the allegations corroborated by witnesses, including an intern who worked in the office," the City of Tampa said. "Trenam concluded that 18 of the 19 allegations appeared more likely than not to have occurred."
Following the investigation, Thomas Gonzalez, the city of Tampa's HR Department's longtime outside counsel, sent Chairman Gudes and his attorney a "confidential draft of the findings."
On Feb 23, Chairman Gudes' attorney submitted a response that, "denied Chairman Gudes engaged in unlawful behavior, denied all the specific allegations, and said Chairman Gudes apologized for any words that caused the employee discomfort."
The response also included that "the chairman and the employee had been longtime friends before he hired them and that in hindsight, some of his comments were inappropriate."
“It is my conclusion that the claimant has provided evidence demonstrating that she suffered harassment based on her sex,” Gonzalez wrote in a memorandum of law following the Trenam report and response by Chairman Gudes’ attorney.
"Since Orlando Gudes is an elected official, I have no authority over him. However, if he were a city employee, he would be fired over these credible and corroborated sexual harassment revelations," Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement. "I know from many years in law enforcement that it takes a great deal of courage for a victim to make harassment and hostile work environment allegations against any supervisor, let alone one as powerful as a city council chairman.”
Orlando Gudes released the following statement on the matter:
ABC spoke with attorney Kevin Zwetsch, who has expertise in workplace law, to better understand what goes into an investigation like this. He said while the law leaves some room for "interpretation," it has clear guidelines for how it defines "objective sexual harassment."
"The law of sexual harassment looks at it both on terms of objectively, what objectively happened and then subjectively is also a consideration. Because some people can have subjective differences about the same experience," he said.
Gudes' attorney has also questioned whether the city and the mayor had the authority to investigate the council chairman because he is an elected official and not a city employee. But both the city and Zwetsch said that legally they had to because that former aide was a city employee at the time of the alleged harassment.
"The duty to the employer still is the same to provide a harassment-free work environment and to provide a prompt remedial solution to that problem," Zwetch said.