Sunday, May 07, 2006

He said/She said, but with a twist. (edited/corrected)

We've all taken jobs that, after accepting them we find that they involve a bit more than advertised, but usually, those unadvertised duties aren't that terribly burdensome (but not always.) We usually either, deal with it, complain to the boss, or quit. I am about to tell you a story. The story is as alleged in a lawsuit a former employee in the City of Houston Municipal Courts has filed. The allegations have never been proven in a court of law, mainly because they have never been adjudicated.

The story is about an employee that was hired by Sylvia Garcia when she was the chief judge of the city municipal courts in March 1994, and how according to court documents the employee claims she was required to perform duties two levels or more above her pay grade, and in August 1995, was asked to perform deviate sexual favors for Judge Garcia in exchange for a promotion to the pay grade for the job she was required to perform and threatened suspension if such favors were not performed. Two weeks after the sexual harassment and after no response from the employee, the employee was suspended for a day and a half for an infraction that occurred BEFORE the employee was ever hired and was committed by a different employee, one Ana Otero, who is now Associate Municipal Court Judge with the City of Houston Municipal Courts. Ms. or should I say Judge now, Otero was also working half days for the Center for Advanced Legal Studies while drawing a full time check from the City.

The odd thing about the suspension is that there is no documentation of the suspension ever being given in the employee's file. Judge Garcia then, in January 1996, decided to run for Harris County Attorney and began contacting the employee at home requesting her to work on her campaign. The employee chose not to. The employee served on the Hispanic Democratic Precinct Judges of Harris County's Candidate Screening Committee. She alleges that on February 19 1996, Pinkie Morin-Cantu, a close friend of Judge Garcia, badgered her to reveal whether Judge Garcia was going to be endorsed by the group prior to the public announcement. She refused to divulge that. After the group announced that they would back someone else, late that night, Judge Garcia called the employee at home, expressing her anger and disappointment, screaming phrases like "After all I have done for you in getting you this job...” despite loosing that endorsement, Judge Garcia won the Democratic Primary election for the position on March 12 1996.

Three months later on June 25 1996, she was called into the office library and quizzed by two of her co-workers, Ana Otero and Linda Vaughn as to why she was not working on Judge Garcia's campaign. This is in direct violation of city rules. Politics may not be discussed in city offices. Ms. Otero has admitted to doing so in her testimony. After she reiterated her desire not to, Ms. Otero began questioning why she was unable to perform her regular duties in a timely fashion. The employee insisted that the extra duties she was required to perform that were not part of her job duties were preventing her from performing her regular duties.

A month later on July 19 1996, Judge Garcia called the employee into her office on a Friday afternoon and with Ms. Otero present, they again interrogated her as to why she was not working on the Judge's campaign. Again, after reiterating her desire not to do so, the subject of work performance came up. Again, the clear implication was that, if the employee would only work on the Judge's campaign, then all this work performance stuff would go away.

The following Monday, July 22nd, the employee was again asked to perform duties that were above the employee's pay grade and outside of the employee's job duties. The employee stated that she would do so but that she wished to contact the City HR department to determine if doing so would violate Civil Service code. Ana Otero went ballistic and told the employee to leave the office. Before the employee could leave, Judge Garcia came into the office, and Ms. Otero and the Judge met behind closed doors. After they finished, the employee was called to the office library by Ms Otero and was informed that the employee was suspended for the remainder of the week without pay and to gather her stuff and go. Two days later on July 24th, the employee reported to the Harris County DA's office that Ms. Otero has donated $500 to the Judges campaign but that the Judge had not reported the contribution. The next day on July 25th, the employee filed an appeal of the suspension. On July 30 the employee filed a grievance concerning the extra duties that the employee was required to perform outside of the employee's classification.

The very next day on July 31'st, Ms. Otero drafted a harassing performance review letter and then back dated it to before the suspension in order to make it look like it had been filed before either grievance, but she made two mistakes, first, the letter is dated the Saturday AFTER the Friday afternoon meeting (July 20), and secondly, all letters written are logged, and this one was logged on July 31. This letter was not given to her until the day of the hearing on the appealed 4 day suspension on August 5th 1996. This letter is the first written documentation of poor work performance in the employee's file in the year and a half that she had worked for the City.

In the letter, she was also informed that her work hours would now include evenings and weekends. This would appear to be intended to interfere with the employees own after-hours political work. The letter also indicated that some of the functions that she was being required to do outside of her job duties would be taken away from her on August 19th, a full month after the meeting, but they were not. The letter purported to be minutes of the July 19 meeting but no mention of the political work interrogation was made.

On Sept. 6th 1996, the employee filed another grievance concerning the harassing performance review and the badgering for her to work on the Judge's campaign. The employee further complained that it was her belief that the Judge had misappropriated city resources to benefit her campaign. On Sept 24 1996, the employee contacted HR and complained that Otero had not responded to her July 30 Grievance and that Otero was required to do so within 90 days. On October 7th 1996, the employee went to the Harris County Clerk's office to check as to whether Ms. Otero's $500 contribution had been recorded as required. It had not and the employee complained to the clerk's office about it, then contacted the DA's office and was told nothing would be done until after the election.

On Oct 15 during a meeting with Ms. Otero, the employee was told by Ms. Otero that she would not discuss the employee's earlier grievance because that was between Judge Garcia and the employee.

That November, Judge Garcia failed in her run for Harris County Attorney.

On Dec. 10, The HR division manager contacted Ms. Otero and informed her that she must respond to the grievances. On the Morning of Dec 11, Otero overheard the employee commenting about her happiness that a candidate she had worked for (Ken Benson) had won election to US Congress, and angrily ordered her to perform a menial clerical task as punishment. On December 16, 1996, the employee informed HR that Otero has still not complied with the required response to her grievances and that further, Judge Garcia had given Barbara Earhart a very sizable raise after Garcia had lost her election bid in 1992 and that Ms. Earhart, with no college degree was drawing nearly twice the employee's salary when that employee had a BA in Communications, and that as of December 16th, 1996, 100 days had passed since the September 6th harassment grievance had been filed without a response.

A written response concerning the extra duty grievance was finally given on Dec. 23. Sometime around this time, Ms Otero was contacted by the DA's office concerning her campaign contributions to Judge Garcia. In February Judge Garcia was informed of the investigation into her Campaign finances, on Feb 12, the employee was informed that there would be meeting about both of her grievances the next day. During that meeting it was made clear that the employee had concerns about improprieties in the Judges campaign. At that point, Otero became aware that the employee was probably the whistleblower that started the investigation.

The rest of that day and all of the next the employee tried to get permission to take the afternoon of Friday Feb 14 1996 off to attend to a tow hearing. The employee was eventually told to use either vacation or comp time to take the time off. The next Monday, the employee was accosted by the Judge and asked why she did not return after the hearing was over, the employee insisted that she was unaware that she was to return and that at any rate, the hearing was delayed. The Judge apparently asked the employee if she was calling her a liar, and the meeting went downhill from there. Two days later she was fired.

A month later on March 6, 1997, Silvia Garcia finally filed an amended Campaign report that included the $500 donation from Otero, which has since gone missing.

The (now former) employee filed a whistleblower lawsuit on April 25 1997. 29 days after the civil service commission refused her appeal.

Today, we have a lesbian serving on Harris County Commissioner's court, one who apparently has no compunction about asking a subordinate for sexual favors in return for favorable treatment, and one who lies about campaign contributions and then when she is forced to file an amended report, the report conveniently goes missing. One that apparently has no compunction about firing people who refuse her advances, who refuse to work on her campaign, and has no problem fabricating and doctoring records to make such a firing happen.


Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

You are talking about a typical Harris county Democrat, so what's new.

I was shocke that the DA went after the idiot JP who applied for another handicapped parking placard after her mother died. They all seem to act like the rules only apply to Republicans.

May 07, 2006 7:25 PM  
Blogger Pigilito said...

What a horrible story. That petty people like Garcia and Otero rise to positions of power is beyond disgusting.

Will this ever be adjuticated?

May 08, 2006 5:01 AM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

Pigilito, there was a summary judgement in the case against the plaintiff, but the specifics of that summary judgement are kind of questionable. Tony Lindsay, the wife of state senator Jon Lindsay, waited almost a year if memory serves to finally sign a judgement, and by that time she could not even remember what had happened at trial so she held a meeting in her chambers with both attorneys to "refresh" her memory. So in essence it was tried again in chambers. Once the judgement was signed, the plaintiff's lawyer stopped taking the plaintiff's phone calls. So the plaintiff has been serving as her own attorney on the appeals.

May 08, 2006 7:49 AM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

I will add that that the appeal concerns the first greivance that was never closed out or properly followed through on. there are at least two or three levels to this case that I'm still sifting through as there seems to be some indication that Ms. Otero worked half-days on a political program for several weeks and it is unclear if she was on city time at that time or not.

May 08, 2006 8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I can say is...Unbelievable, but not surprising. I will not group all persons in jobs of high positions to be like these two individuals - but stories like this happen all the time and nothing ever gets done about it. Whistleblower programs or not... it will not change! And that is sad!

July 27, 2006 1:40 PM  

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