By David Skolnick
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dismissed Lyndsey Hughes’ sexual harassment charge against DeMaine Kitchen, the city’s former chief of staff/secretary to the mayor.
But even with the dismissal, Hughes, downtown director of events, special events and marketing, got what she wanted from the commission: a right-to-sue notice.
That allows her to take the city to federal court on the harassment complaint.
Hughes has 90 days from receiving the EEOC letter — a copy of which was received Monday — to file in federal court.
The EEOC declined the complaint because it doesn’t have jurisdiction to investigate Hughes’ claims because she’s an “appointed employee,” according to a letter from the commission.
City council hires the downtown director and can fire that person at any time without giving a reason.
She also could file a lawsuit in state court or go to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, said Andrew Margolius, one of Hughes’ attorneys. In addition to suing the city, she can sue Kitchen or other city officials, he said.
“This will be fleshed out in a court of law,” Margolius said.
A 67-page report by Steve Sample, a retired Summit County sheriff’s deputy hired by the city to investigate Hughes’ allegation, determined Kitchen, who lost last month’s mayoral election, sexually harassed Hughes both verbally and through text messages.
The report, released Friday, doesn’t address claims by Hughes’ lawyers that Kitchen physically harassed their client.
Hughes had messages on her cellphone from Kitchen, who confirmed to Sample that he sent them.
They include: “I get that and it’s cool. I just don’t want u to treat me like a stalker or something :-). It’s urs if u ever want it tho,” and “Ur my girl and I’ve been attracted” to you.
Kitchen resigned Dec. 2, four days before the report was provided to the media. He has not returned numerous telephone calls from The Vindicator seeking comment.
The report states the city followed its sexual harassment policy despite assertions from Hughes’ attorneys that they didn’t, said Law Director Anthony Farris.
“They’re trying to say the city of Youngstown is complicit or failed to follow policy,” Farris said of Hughes’ attorneys. “Our policy worked beautifully.”
Margolius disagreed, and said he wondered what Farris is thinking.
In her statement to Sample:
Hughes said Kitchen’s harassment began in late 2009, and he “became more aggressive toward her” a year later, rubbing his genitals up against her arm and smoothing his pants to show the outline of his penis.
On Jan. 6, 2011, Hughes told Charles Sammarone, then council president and now mayor, that Kitchen was sexually harassing her and showed her the text messages.
After that meeting, Hughes went to Farris, deputy law director at the time, and asked to get a copy of the city’s sexual harassment policy. Farris repeatedly asked if she was OK and if she wanted to talk about what was happening not just that day but whenever she would see him.
Hughes said she told Farris that she thought the situation was getting handled by Sammarone.
The day after speaking to Farris, Hughes met Sammarone; Jamael Tito Brown, then 3rd Ward councilman and now council president; and Kitchen.
At that meeting, Hughes said Sammarone told Kitchen to stop, which he did until about June 2011, according to her statements to Sample.
“She chose not to participate in our sexual harassment process or ask for an investigation,” Farris said. “The attorneys say even if you had an inkling, you should investigate. But that would disregard the request of the alleged victim.”
Hughes’ attorneys said their client complained to Sammarone and the city whitewashed the issue.
“A complaint was brought to council and it was swept under the rug” in 2011, Margolius said. “If Kitchen had been disciplined then, it would have been resolved.”
Hughes told Sample that Kitchen’s on-and-off sexual harassment resumed this past June.
A month later, city council suspended her for five days without pay for not telling its members that there wasn’t enough city money for a July jazz festival. Instead of going to council, Hughes received money from her boyfriend, Dominic Gatta, who runs a production company, for the event.
Hughes’ attorneys have said the suspension was in “retaliation” to her complaints about Kitchen. But council members have said that wasn’t the case.
Shortly after council suspended Hughes, David Engler, acting as her attorney, wrote a letter to city council about the suspension and mentioned the sexual harassment, without using Kitchen’s name. He added that sexual harassment victims “always wonder if the person in power is or will [affect] their job.”
Farris said he responded to Engler in a letter urging Hughes to file a complaint and a copy of the city’s sexual harassment policy.
It wasn’t until Sept. 19 that Farris received a letter, from other attorneys representing Hughes, with a complaint.
Several people who’ve read Sample’s report say it was written poorly with grammatical and spelling mistakes as well as the narrative going from the first person to the third person.
“It was put together poorly,” said Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th. “It’s confusing how it’s written.”
Drennen also said it shouldn’t have taken two months to finish, and that Sample canceled their meeting the first time and the investigator interviewed him for less than 10 minutes the second time.
Farris said the report wasn’t “an academic exercise. It’s what investigators submit to prosecutors: a summary of statements not intended to be pretty. He conducted a thorough investigation.”
In the report, Hughes said she was having issues with Councilwomen Annie Gillam, D-1st, and Janet Tarpley, D-6th, who didn’t support her and wanted to hire someone else.
Gillam said she tried to work with Hughes, but “she was a difficult person to work with” and “totally unprofessional.”
Hughes was docked three hours of pay and received a written reprimand for claiming she worked that time when she didn’t on Jan. 26, 2012.
Council could have fired Hughes then or after the issues with the jazz festival were discovered, Gillam said.
“We decided to do a step process, and if it was done a third time, she’d be fired,” she said.
In hindsight, Gillam said, “I regret not firing her. We were trying to give her a chance. She should have been doing better. She wasn’t professional at all.”
Gillam, a Kitchen supporter in the mayoral election, said she was surprised the report concluded Kitchen sexually harassed Hughes.
“I never saw it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” she said.