Tampa, Fla. - Numbers just released by the state reveal the dollar by dollar scars left behind by allegations of sexual harassment amid state agencies in the Sunshine State.
Over the past 30 years, data shows Florida taxpayers have paid out more than $11 million to state workers who claimed they were sexually harassed on the job.
In all, the state has settled at least 311 sexual harassment claims over the last three decades. Florida’s top child welfare agency accounted for roughly 22 of the claims, while state universities settled 23 sexual harassment claims since 1987.
But the most settled claims involved the state’s largest employers, its prison system
In fact, more than half of all sexual harassment claims settled involved Florida's Department of Corrections (FDC). FDC's priciest case settled ten years ago for $1.3 million. It involved a group of nurses who filed a class-action lawsuit after alleging they were repeatedly sexually harassed by inmates and their complaints were repeatedly ignored by FDC higher-ups.
“FDC has zero tolerance for sexual harassment of employees or inmates in our custody. Any inmates or staff found to be engaging in this inappropriate behavior are subject to discipline, up to and including, arrest," said Michelle Glady with FDC. FDC also made note that less than one percent of these settlements occurred during the current administration.
“That shouldn't have happened. If there was proper training in place it may have stopped earlier,” said Shaina Thorpe. She is a Tampa-based employment attorney and teaches employment law and has worked sexual harassment cases for both private companies and the government. Filing harassment claims in government she says has its challenges.
“There is that fear that if an employer pulls a personnel file that settlement will show up and a new employer maybe spooked,” she said.
In addition, government protection limits what victims can get compensated for and how much. Thorpe thinks the overall dollar amount of state claims that have been settled is low.
“I would say they are artificially low in the sense that they don’t reflect what individuals in the private sector would have received,” she said.
Of all cases (of any kind) Florida has settled since the late 80s, sexual harassment cases accounted for roughly 15 percent.
“I think the state needs to take away having a solid anti-harassment policy in place and actually using that policy can save the taxpayers a lot of money in the long run,” she said.
In response to the data released by the Florida Division of Risk Management which tracks lawsuit settlements from state agencies, John Tupps, spokesman for Florida Governor Rick Scott sent a statement:
“Florida has absolutely zero tolerance for harassment of any kind. The governor wants every state employee to be able to work in an environment where they feel safe. The overwhelming majority of these expenditures predate the Governor’s time in office and are approved by the CFO.”