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HD 115 hopeful Jose Fernandez may not be best for GOP, trial lawyers

It comes as no surprise that Republican Jose Fernandez is drawing the support of many of the state’s biggest trial lawyers in his bid for House District 115.

But does he represent the best choice for the GOP?

Fernandez is himself a lawyer who heads his own personal injury litigation firm, and is one of four candidates seeking the GOP nomination to succeed term-limited state Rep. Michael Bileca.

Backers include Democrat mega-donor Robert Rubenstein of Miami and newly sworn-in president of the statewide trial bar, Lake “Trey” Lytal of Palm Beach.

Despite the support, the Fernandez firm’s involvement in and handling of a 2016 lawsuit brought by his former office manager, a 52-year-old female, should raise serious concerns about his viability as a candidate, particularly in the wake of the national #MeToo movement as well as the Florida Legislature’s own grappling with sexual harassment scandals.

The suit alleges that mistreatment came at the “hands of specifically but not limited to (firm employee and supervisor) Anthony Soto and Jose Fernandez.”

In summarizing the alleged mistreatment, Fernandez’s office manager testified that Soto — whom she says publicly called her the “old lady of the firm” — would show “inappropriate sex videos to staff members.”

When she complained and refused to participate, he made numerous age-related discriminatory comments.

The suit continues: Upon returning from hospitalization after a stroke, “Soto accused her of fraudulently providing her doctor’s note,” and required her to work off-the-clock to catch up on work missed while on medical leave.

However, it was Soto’s conduct related to a female client that became “the main thing” that bothered the complainant about the work environment at Fernandez’s firm.

During deposition, the woman described in lurid detail what concerned her most:

“[Soto’s] sexual comments and videos. He also had a one-night stand with a client and then refused to talk to her. He bragged about it and when she would come in we had to talk to her.

“I couldn’t believe it and felt that he had crossed the line as an attorney. He also filmed himself with girls and showed people the video.

“The one thing that bothered me the most was when he asked my son in my presence if he had ever had a bl**job, because he knew some girls he could call that would come to the office and give him one.

“Needless to say, my son was embarrassed.”

Faced with such explosive testimony, attorneys from Fernandez’s firm fought back again, attempting to have it excluded from the pending trial by arguing it had “no relevance.”

Despite their efforts, there was even more evidence of discriminatory attitudes and biases.

The woman also testified that Soto had previously instructed her not to hire African-Americans and retaliated when she objected to this racially biased request.

Every step of the way, attorneys at Fernandez’s firm fought the former employee, even going as far as trying to get the suit dismissed by way of using her application for disability benefits submitted after suffering a stroke, being forced to work off the clock and her subsequent termination.

Even though the suit ultimately settled last year, the #MeToo movement has brought increased scrutiny on the issue of sexual harassment (as well as other bad behavior) in the workplace.

It’s also time to call the men out — particularly those seeking elective office — who ignore the treatment (or mistreatment) subordinate women in their employ.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

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