Former employee sues Vero Beach over sexual harassment complaints

By Alina Lambiet For VeroNews.com

VERO BEACH — A former employee has filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging her superiors ignored her complaints that a city board member made repeated sexual advances toward her.In a lawsuit filed Sept. 16, Janet Bickford, who worked in City Clerk Tammy Vock’s office as a receptionist, accuses Vock and the human resources department, of taking no action to stop the board member — an unidentified man — from making “gross sexual overtures” over the course of about a year starting in 2007. Instead, the lawsuit says, the supervisors repeatedly asked her to keep quiet.

Bickford declined to comment, referring questions to her attorney, Joseph Mancini of Fort Pierce. The lawsuit does not name the board or the member involved. Mancini could not be reached for comment. Bickford’s complaint says that sometime in 2007 the board member began to repeatedly make sexual innuendos and twice came up behind her and “forcibly kissed her on the lips against her will.”When she told Vock to make him stop, Vock’s response was “what happens in the Clerk’s office stays in the Clerk’s office.” Vock also told Bickford that this was all Bickford’s fault, the complaint alleges.The lawsuit says Bickford continued to be harassed. She then went to Human Resources with her complaint, but the department took no action, the lawsuit says.She then made a phone call to report the matter to the police department on Feb. 22, 2008. Shortly after she made that report, the lawsuit states, Vock stormed into her office and told her “how many times do I have to tell you to keep your mouth shut?”

Vock declined to comment about the lawsuit, Bickford, or her employment record with the city. She said she had not seen the lawsuit, and did not recall any meetings with Bickford on the matter.

The City Clerk did say Bickford filed an employment harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the commission found the complaint without merit.

Because the city didn’t take action, Bickford, under stress, took medical leave in February of 2008. The issue came to a head, the lawsuit states, after she returned to work and was called into a meeting in the Human Resource director’s office on May 5, 2008.

When asked about the May 5, 2008 meeting where Bickford claims she was berated, Vock said she was not in the room.According to the lawsuit, she was subjected to a barrage of insults, including “when you speak to men, you bat your eyelashes and give men the impression you want to have sex with them” and “are you aware that 50 percent  of the men in the city want to have sex with you?” and “you are perceived as a dumb blonde.”Bickford was fired from her position in May 2008.Bickford is seeking damages, back pay and benefits.

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