A lawsuit filed Monday in Hillsborough County Court levied startling accusations against a Tampa City Council Member already embroiled in a sexual harrasment investigation that corroborated allegations he abused a former legislative aide.
That aide and her teenage daughter are suing Orlando Gudes over defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit adds to the 18 instances Trenam Law found more than likely to have occurred in an independent investigation by accusing Gudes of wanting to exchange sexual favors for political access; engaging in “pedophiliac” behavior and feeling immune from punishment, while creating a hostile and abusive work environment.
The suit comes just under two months after Trenam reported the results of its independent investigation into accusations of harassment by Gudes to the City of Tampa. Gudes refused the call from multiple council members to step down. Instead, he relinquished his role as Council Chair with only a few weeks left in his term and remaining on the City Council.
According to the lawsuit, Gudes at least once refused to “discuss community issues with local activists and leaders residing in District 5 who were not providing sexual favors to him.” In one instance, Gudes’ former aide said he refused to meet with a local pastor, telling the aide “What do I need to meet with her for? I’m not f–king her. She’s not bl–ing me. So, I don’t have to listen to her.”
The suit outlines a “nightmare” scenario under which the aide was forced to work 24/7, even though Gudes did not. According to the suit, Gudes once told his aide he was hungover and forced her to explain an absence by saying his mother was sick.
The former aide is a Black woman and single mother of two. She worked with Gudes from May 2019 until August 2021. The suit said she took the job with Gudes despite a checkered history of misconduct and reprimands during his career as an officer with the Tampa Police Department. He promised her he had changed and wanted to be good for the residents of District 5 whom he was elected to represent. According to the suit, lies and gaslighting started there. Gudes, it said, resides in District 7, where he previously ran unsuccessfully for City Council but ran in District 5, against the city’s charter.
Gudes’ response to findings in the investigation claimed the harassment was a misunderstanding between old friends who had a new dynamic to their relationship. But the lawsuit challenges Gudes assessment. According to the suit, Gudes and his former aide had no relationship prior to her employment and knew each other through a mutual friend who recommended she seek the job. Once in the role, the aide was allegedly forced to engage in unethical work like communicating on behalf of others and using private email accounts to circumvent open records laws.
Some of the harassment and abuse came in the form of comments about the aide’s body, telling her she needed liposuction in one instance and in another pulling up next to her and leaning out of his car to sniff her groin area and say “smells like a man’s been in there today.”
“On separate occasions, Mr. Gudes told S.H. (the aide) that she needed liposuction around her midsection, wore attire that was too professional (and not sexually suggestive), did not wear her hair in a certain way that was sexually suggestive, and behaved like someone going through menopause,” attorney Ethan Loeb wrote in the suit. “Mr. Gudes’ inappropriate and outrageous behaviors made S.H. uncomfortable. Indeed, S.H. began to fear being alone with Mr. Gudes because she thought he was a pervert.”
Some of the alleged abuse came in the form of misogynistic and sexually explicit comments about others. Gudes is accused of homophobic comments regarding the mayor and other members of the police department; commenting on the size of a city finance worker’s rear end and sexual activity; and calling women who complained about him “overly sensitive.”
But the abuse wasn’t limited to the aide, according to the suit. The aide’s daughter, who was 13 at the time, was allegedly sexualized and body shamed by Gudes. According to the suit, he told her to stand up straighter because she had large breasts and they would sag otherwise. According to the suit, the girl became embarrassed and ashamed of her body, especially around Gude, whom she was required to be around due to her mother’s demanding work schedule. He also made comments about former President Barack Obama‘s then-minor daughter to a woman intern from Duke University, saying Sasha Obama had a “hot body” and he “bet she’s wild.”
According to the suit, the aide tried to resolve the issues a number of ways, including addressing Gudes directly and City Council Attorney Martin Shelby when Gudes refused to change his behavior. Shelby allegedly told the aide he didn’t want to “get involved with that” and accused another legislative aide of “trying to throw me under the bus.”
Shelby could not be reached for comment.
The aide also attempted to elevate the concerns and sought help from a mental health professional. She left her position as Gudes’ aide on the advice of a mental health professional, the suit said. In August of 2021 Gudes allegedly yelled at his former aide so fiercely “Councilman Luis Viera, former Councilman John Dingfelder, and various legislative aides sent text messages to S.H. asking if she was OK and stating they were praying for her to recover and someday come back to work.”
But she didn’t come back to work. Loeb said Gudes then went on a smear campaign, calling his former aide a liar and trying to frame her as a problem employee, despite giving her near-perfect scores on her employee evaluations.
“Mr. Gudes falsely published statements to the City, the press, and members of the community asserting that S.H.’s allegations of sexual harassment were false and unsupportable,” Loeb wrote. “In addition, Mr. Gudes falsely asserted in his statements published to the City, the press, and members of the community, that S.H. was incapable of performing her job duties and poorly performed as his legislative aide. Mr. Gudes’s statements were made with knowledge that they were false, and with the intent that such statements damage S.H.’s reputation, livelihood, and well-being.”
The lawsuit also accuses Gudes of roping in Tampa Bay Times Reporter Charlie Frago by giving him information prior to the investigation so the aide would be intimidated. It also accuses Gudes of looping Frago in again during the investigation. The suit claims Frago contacted the woman at least twice.
“Mr. Frago said that he was writing about the ‘Orlando Gudes matter,’ which was supposed to have been confidential, and stated that ‘a lot of people are asking why the investigation is taking so long and the delay seemed to be a political tactic by the Castor Administration.’ Mr. Frago also told S.H. that Mr. Gudes had already made a statement indicating that S.H. ‘s allegations were false, and noted that her full name was in the statement,” Loeb said in the suit. “This conversation occurred two hours before Mr. Gudes provided his response and statement to the City.”
Representatives from the Tampa Bay Times have not responded to a request for comment.
According to court documents, Loeb and Gudes’ aide are seeking more than $100,000 in damages.
Gudes declined to comment on the allegations.