An investigative report released Monday found Tampa City Council Chairman Orlando Gudes sexually harassed a legislative aide, prompting a swift response from Mayor Jane Castor.
“It is my conclusion that the Claimant has provided evidence demonstrating that she suffered harassment based on her sex,” Thomas Gonzalez wrote in the report.
According to documents obtained by Florida Politics, a former legislative aide filed a complaint against Gudes in August 2021. An investigation was quickly launched. Gudes was not accused of making sexual advances, but rather “frequent offensive conduct and abuse.”
“The employee did not make any allegation of any sexual advances, requests for sex, touching, or any other explicitly or implicitly sexual conduct and none has been found. Conduct of that kind is not necessary to prove the existence of a hostile work environment based on sex,” Gonzalez wrote.
“This investigation has produced evidence the employee’s supervisor created a hostile working environment by comments and conduct which a reasonable person of the employee’s sex would find offensive and which the employee did in fact find offensive.”
Since Gudes is an elected official and not city staff, Trenam Law was hired to conduct an investigation.
Castor said her actions would’ve been swift if he had been part of her staff.
“Since Orlando Gudes is an elected official, I have no authority over him,” Castor wrote. “However, if he were a city employee he would be fired over these credible and corroborated sexual harassment revelations. I know from many years in law enforcement that it takes a great deal of courage for a victim to make harassment and hostile work environment allegations against any supervisor, let alone one as powerful as a City Council chairman.”
The report outlines a history of crude and derogatory comments Gudes directed to his aide and other women. According to the report, he referred to his aide as “Celie” in a reference to a constantly abused Black woman in the novel and movie The Color Purple.
He also made comments about his aide’s daughter’s body:
“The Claimant alleges that Respondent remarked to her daughter that she needed to stand up straight because she ‘had really big boobs and if (she) kept standing like that your boobs will be down to here,'” the report said.
The report also alleges Gudes made comments about the family of former President Barack Obama.
“The intern reported that the Respondent (Gudes) made a comment about an Obama daughter’s ‘hot body’ and expressed the opinion that he ‘bet she (the Obama daughter) was wild,'” Gonzalez wrote.
And he allegedly made comments about the Mayor’s sexual orientation.
“The Claimant alleges that the Respondent (Gudes) referred to a city employee with a homophobic slur and said that the employee was “in the same club as the Mayor. ‘She’s in the bulldagger club,'” Gonzalez wrote.
Gudes did not respond to a request for comment Monday. But the documents Florida Politics obtained contain a letter Gudes wrote in response to the allegations.
“Many of the accusations are false and there are certain remarks that I have been accused of making that I have denied and must continue to categorically deny. However, I admit that some of the statements are true, though unfortunately taken out of context. Additionally, I believe there are ways I can improve on effectively communicating with and managing others, and to assist me with this, I have decided to engage the services of an Executive Coach, Gina Cox, PhD, at my own expense. It is my hope that through this process I can further develop my own leadership skills and workplace sensitivity so that I can be at my best to better serve my constituents and this city.”
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment “does not have to be of a sexual nature … and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.”
The news is the latest trouble for an embattled Tampa City Council already down one member. John Dingfelder stepped down in early March amid a public records lawsuit. The Council has 30 days to select his replacement.
Gudes has not indicated any desire to step down. The city does not have authority to discipline Gudes, but the aide who filed the complaint can file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC or Florida Commission on Human Relations and file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Gudes, a former Tampa police officer with a 26-year career in the department, is the current leader of the Tampa City Council. He was elected in 2019 and his current term expires May 1, 2023. Gudes represents East Tampa’s District 5.