School District finds possible sexual harassment in case against director

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – An investigative report released today by the Indian River County School District has found probable cause that the risk management director sexually harassed a female contractor and retaliated against her.

The investigator has made several recommendations to the School District to take corrective actions, including suspending the director without pay for a period of time and demoting him to a less supervisory position. Superintendent Dr. Harry La Cava has the authority to take personnel action. What actions he might take have not yet been determined. It is possible he could make a determination and review it with the School Board at the next regular meeting, March 8.

Risk Management Director Gerry Koziel remains on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. He has denied the allegations of sexually harassing the contractor and retaliating against her.

The investigator’s suggestions for action also include the district consider mandating sexual harassment training, giving a warning to Koziel that future violations would result in further disciplinary action including termination, and reassigning the complainant to another supervisor – which the district has already done.

Koziel is a 7-year employee with the district. He handles matters involving insurance and benefits, workers compensation and internal investigations, according to his job description.

Until recently, he had been the complainant’s direct supervisor.

School Superintendent Dr. Harry La Cava requested that the School Board Attorney’s Office conduct the investigation into the woman’s complaints so as to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to the investigative report created by Assistant School Board Attorney Al Truesdell.

The woman – a vendor who provides services to the School District on an annually-renewable contract – verbally complained to La Cava in early December about what she called unwanted sexual advances by Koziel and what she believed to be retaliation for not giving in to his advances.

A short time later, the woman filed a written complaint, which prompted the investigation.

According to what the woman told Truesdell during the investigation, for three years, Koziel kissed and inappropriately touched her and made comments to her that led her to believe that her contract with the School District could be in jeopardy if she did not do as he wanted.

E-mails and voice mail messages sent to the contractor by the director were used as proof of the woman’s complaint and referred to as “smoking guns” in the investigation.

“Several of the emails and recordings of voicemail messages support [the complainant]’s allegations,” Truesdell wrote in his report.

Koziel has taken exception to Truesdell’s findings, calling the report “premature, incomplete, speculative…replete with unfounded conclusions, and is defamatory.”

He took issue with Truesdell for not interviewing him a second time, as Truesdell had indicated he would, Koziel said in his six-page response to the report.

“The investigator appears to be championing [the complainant]’s complaint rather than viewing the evidence objectively,” Koziel wrote in his response.

Koziel also contends that if what the woman was alleging had been occurring for three years, why had she not reported it sooner.

The complainant “did not file a complaint earlier because she had nothing to complain about,” Koziel wrote, countering Truesdell’s explanation for the delayed complaint.

Truesdell wrote that the woman “did not report the complaints sooner because she was convinced she was prohibited from talking to any district officials.”

She had told Truesdell that Koziel had told her not to communicate with other School District staff or members of the School Board – that she was to report directly and only to him.

Koziel contends that the woman only filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment after he denied approving a submitted invoice. He wrote in his response that he denied approval of the invoice because the work that had been invoiced had not been performed.

Human Resources staff has since reviewed the invoice and approved payment, according to Truesdell, who suggests that the work had been performed, otherwise the district would not have paid it.

This article first published at 11:33 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22.

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