Friday, June 1, 2012

Tampa Woman Likely to Sue Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office

Carolynn Filipponne worked in the office of the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser, holding a couple of positions before eventually rising to the level of director of human resources.  She worked for the current Property Appraiser Rob Turner.  Approximately, two years ago she filed a Charge of Discrimination against Turner’s office with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) based on allegations of sexual harassment.  Specifically, Filipponne alleged that Turner had sent her pornographic photos through the emails.  She also alleged that Turner had sent him a text that attached a photo of his genitals.  Think allegations against made by former FSU cowgirl against Brett Farve or former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.  See Woman Considers Wrongful Termination Suit Against Rob Turner, Who Sent Her Porn

The EEOC closed the file in April indicating “The EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.”  At this point, Turner believed he won the case and on Monday, he fired Ms. Filipponne.  In other words, he went from exercising poor judgment, with his use of the emails, to failing to consult wise counsel regarding the employment of Ms. Filipponne.  Also, a story that was unknown to the public has become front page news for the last three days.

The dismissal of the EEOC case started a 90-day clock for Ms. Filipponne.  She has until sometime in July to decide whether she wants to drop her case against Turner’s office or move forward with a lawsuit in state of federal court.  She is also represented by an excellent Tampa attorney, Steve Wenzel, who is guiding her through her decision.  Ms. Filipponne also added Chris Jayson to her legal team.  The question is not whether Ms. Filipponne will file suit.  Rather, the question is when.  By firing Ms. Filipponne, Turner unwittingly gave her a reason to move forward with a lawsuit.  To make matters worse, Ms. Filipponne can add allegations of retaliation on top of her harassment claims.  I have not done a scientific study, but I always felt that a retaliation claim is always easier to prove than a discrimination or harassment claim.

Is it really necessary to emphasize the many mistakes made by Turner?  In case you missed it, they include: 1) do not date your employees (think Glenn Close and Fatal Attraction); 2) do not send your employees porn; and 3) do not fire your employees when they are in the middle of deciding on whether they should sue you.  

A few years back, the County spent nearly $300,000 trying to defend Kevin White, who I understand reported to prison yesterday by the way.  The County needs to settle this case quickly because taxpayers are growing weary of having to write big checks for acts of poor judgment by County officials.