By David Skolnick
A report on sexual harassment complaints filed against DeMaine Kitchen, the former chief of staff/secretary to the mayor, by Lyndsey Hughes, a city council employee, will be released today.
But Hughes’ attorneys already have filed a charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seeking a “right-to-sue” letter that would permit them to take the city to federal court on the harassment complaint.
Andrew Margolius, one of Hughes’ three attorneys, is largely dismissive of the city’s investigation, conducted by Steve Sample, a retired Summit County sheriff’s deputy.
City officials “want to make it more dramatic than it is,” Margolius said. “It’s an investigation by a police officer who isn’t a harassment expert. I hope he understands sexual harassment law. It’s a lot different than criminal law.”
Regardless of what is in Sample’s report, Margolius said Hughes will pursue the harassment case.
“The city’s procedures are a little archaic,” he said. “The city’s EEO process has been defective since day one.”
Hughes could file a lawsuit in state court at any time, or after receiving the letter from the EEOC pursue the matter in federal court, Margolius said.
Attorneys for Hughes, the city’s downtown director of events, special projects and marketing, say Kitchen sexually harassed their client on and off since January 2011.
Margolius and Barbara A. Belovich, another attorney for Hughes, wrote city Law Director Anthony Farris in mid-September that their client “experienced sexual harassment, including unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical harassment of a sexual nature” from Kitchen.
Kitchen has strongly denied the allegations and contends they are politically motivated because Hughes supported Democrat John McNally IV in the recent Youngstown mayoral race.
Margolius said that isn’t true.
In the Nov. 5 election, McNally soundly defeated Kitchen, who resigned Monday from his administrative job that paid him $74,187 annually.
Kitchen wrote in his resignation letter that it was “unlikely” that he would be hired by McNally and was quitting early “in order to pursue career opportunities in the private sector.”
Farris received Sample’s report late Thursday and will meet today first with Kitchen, and then later with Hughes and her attorneys. The report will be given to the media after the Hughes meeting, Farris said.
The report will not make recommendations as to what type of discipline, if any, should be given, Farris said.
“He’ll have information from the interviews he conducted and summaries, and results from lab reports, and he’ll leave it at that,” Farris said of Sample. “Then, the mayor and I will determine if any further action needs to be done. It will definitely be a topic of discussion in the upcoming week.”
The possibility of disciplining Kitchen is a “moot point” with his resignation, Farris said.
“This is an internal report,” he said. “It’s an important part of the process.”
The “lab reports” Farris mentioned deal with a company that checked the legitimacy of sexually explicit text messages on Hughes’ cellphone that her attorneys say were sent to her by Kitchen.
Mayor Charles Sammarone’s alleged involvement in this case likely will be part of the report.
In a letter to Farris, Emily Gilbert, Hughes’ other attorney, said her client complained in “an informal manner” in January 2011 to Sammarone, then city council president, about Kitchen, then 2nd Ward councilman.
Rather than conduct an investigation, Sammarone met with Hughes, Kitchen and Jamael Tito Brown, then the 3rd Ward councilman, in an effort to resolve the issue, Gilbert wrote.
At that meeting, Sammarone told Kitchen to stop talking or messaging Hughes, according to Gilbert’s letter.
“It was never resolved,” Margolius said Thursday.
Sample’s investigation began Oct. 7. It was slowed as Sample waited for the lab results on Hughes’ phone, Farris said.
If lawsuits filed by other employees against the city are any indication, it could be a few years before this matter is settled — if Hughes sues.
For example, Bassil Ally, an attorney in the city prosecutor’s office who’s since resigned, sued in May 2009 in federal court claiming religious and ethnic discrimination.
The case was settled in October 2011 just before the case was to start with Ally receiving $110,000, a $4,000 annual pay raise and a job promotion from the city.