By DAVID SKOLNICK
City council members met behind closed doors to discuss recent allegations by one of their employees that she was sexually harassed on and off since
January 2011 by DeMaine Kitchen.
Kitchen, the mayor’s chief of staff/secretary and an independent candidate for mayor, strongly denies the charges and contends they are “politically
The seven council members spent 30 minutes in executive session Wednesday with Council President Jamael Tito Brown, Mayor Charles Sammarone and Law
Director Anthony Farris.
While some council members acknowledged the private meeting was about the claims made by Lyndsey Hughes, the city’s downtown director of events, special projects and marketing, who reports directly to council, they all declined to comment about what was discussed at the meeting.
Wednesday was the first time the lawmakers met since receiving a letter five days ago from one of three Cleveland attorneys representing Hughes.
Hughes didn’t attend the meeting, informing council earlier that day that she would not be there.
In the Friday letter to council, Atty. Barbara A. Belovich, who represents Hughes, wrote that her client “has experienced sexual harassment, including unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical harassment of a sexual nature during her tenure” from Kitchen, a city councilman who joined Sammarone’s administration in August 2011.
Kitchen, who said he took a leave of absence from his job Friday to concentrate on his mayoral bid, insists the allegations are “untrue and unsupported.”
Because of his voluntary unpaid leave of absence, Kitchen wasn’t at Wednesday’s council meeting.
Kitchen said Tuesday that Hughes is making the allegations this late in the mayoral campaign — the election is Nov. 5 and early voting started Tuesday — because she supports Democrat John McNally IV for mayor.
The city is close to hiring a noncity employee to investigate the claims, in compliance with its sexual harassment policy, Farris said.
In a Sept. 19 letter to Farris,
Belovich and Andrew Margolius, another attorney retained by Hughes, wrote that in January 2011, she told Sammarone, council president at the time, about Kitchen’s alleged behavior.
Instead of conducting an investigation, Sammarone met with Jamael Tito Brown, then 3rd Ward councilman, and Hughes about the matter.
Kitchen, then 2nd Ward councilman, said he was also at that meeting, and it ended with Hughes “acknowledging that” an incident she thought was sexual harassment was a “misunderstanding.”
The harassment stopped for a while after that meeting, but started again, said Emily Gilbert, another Hughes attorney.
In the Sept. 19 letter, Hughes attorneys wrote that “in June 2013, Kitchen began another torrent of harassment toward Ms. Hughes. And this time it was most egregious.”
Hughes was suspended for five days without pay a month later for failing to tell council there wasn’t enough city money for a city jazz festival, according to a council letter to her.
Hughes attorneys say the suspension and a police investigation that cleared her of any wrongdoing were in “retaliation” to her complaints.
Kitchen has denied he had anything to do with her suspension and the investigation.