EEOC: Sexual harassment complaint against Vero Beach unfounded

By Debbie Carson, Online Editor

VERO BEACH — A complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the City of Vero Beach could not be substantiated, according to an agency investigator.

The sexual harassment complaint was filed in August 2008 on behalf of Janet Bickford, a former receptionist in the city clerk’s office, and accuses former Code Enforcement Committee president Jim Kirchner of repeatedly making unwanted sexual advances toward the eight-year employee. Efforts to reach Kirchner have been unsuccessful.

EEOC investigator, Jose Camejo, noted in his findings that: “Based upon its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes. This does not certify that the respondent (the City of Vero Beach) is in compliance with the statutes. No finding is made as to any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.”

The investigator does not explain what he based his findings on, records show.

Instead of material substantiating the EEOC’s position, there is an “X” in the box next to his selected option on the EEOC findings form. Nitza Wright, of the EEOC, said that the case is confidential and that only the charging party (Bickford) and the responding party (the city) can receive information about the case.

“We cannot help you with that,” Wright said when asked about how the investigator came to his conclusion. In general, EEOC investigators conduct witness interviews, analyze data provided by both parties, and sometimes go on-site to gather more information, Wright said. The process and timeframe vary based on the complexity of the case.

Bickford has filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Vero Beach, claiming that she was sexually harassed and wrongfully terminated.

How the EEOC’s findings might impact Bickford’s law suit against the city remains to be seen. Bickford’s attorney, Joseph Mancini, has not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment. Bickford has declined to speak about it, and has referred calls to her attorney.

Of the 12 pages, nine are dedicated to informing both Bickford and the City of Vero Beach as to what information is available, what their rights are and other available resources. Two pages pertain to Bickford’s complaint.

In her EEOC complaint and the lawsuit, Bickford maintains that she was discriminated against under the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bickford, who worked at City Hall for eight years, said in her complaint that she had been the subject of unwanted sexual advances and exposed to harassment from Nov. 15, 2007, through Feb. 22, 2008. During that time, she said in the complaint, she reported the incidents to City Clerk Tammy Vock, other management officials and the Human Resources Department.

In the complaint, Bickford wrote that she was subjected to sexual harassment by a “citizen who talked about pornography to me. Later, I was touched inappropriately and kissed on the lips by the President of the Code Enforcement Committee…,” Kirchner,  and wrote that she reported the incident to Vock and others.

Bickford said in the complaint that Vock began to retaliate against her, a claim she makes in the lawsuit.

On Feb. 25, 2008, Bickford went on leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, and when she returned – at an unknown date – she was transferred to work in the Human Resources Department, according to the complaint.

Within a couple days of returning, Bickford was called into the director’s officer, Robert Anderson, where HR manager Lynn George also was. While there, Bickford maintains in the EEOC complaint, she was told: “that I was a dumb blond, was accused of being a sexual predator of male employees and I was asked if I knew that 50 percent of male employees wanted to have sex with me.”

Bickford again took time off from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act “because of the stress and humiliation and retaliation I was subjected to,” she wrote in the complaint.

She went on to say that she began to see a therapist, noting the city was aware she was seeing a psychologist.

“They even asked a co-worker of mine if ‘I had gone crazy,'” Bickford wrote.

On June 27, 2008, Bickford was fired.

“I have not been given a legitimate reason for Respondent’s (City of Vero Beach) discriminatory actions towards me,” she wrote. “I believe I was discriminated against because of my sex and perceived as being disabled because I was seeing a psychologist.”

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