Florida Politics

Florida Senate settled sexual harassment retaliation case for $900K

The Florida Senate paid $900,000 to settle a complaint filed by a high-ranking staffer who alleged she was retaliated against for accusing a former senator of sexual harassment, according to documents released by the Senate President Thursday. As part of the agreement, the aide, Rachel Perrin Rogers, is resigning.

Perrin Rogers, a longtime staffer for Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, filed her resignation letter Dec. 19, the day the settlement was signed with the Senate.

“In accordance with the terms of the settlement agreement, my resignation will be effective January 4th, 2019,” she wrote in a letter to Simpson dated Dec. 19. “Having the opportunity to assist as you’ve served your constituents has been an honor. I feel an immense sadness that at this time I am no longer able to do this work for you in the Senate.”

Rachel Perrin Rogers
Rachel Perrin Rogers courtesy Rachel Perrin Rogers

The settlement dictates the $900,000 be paid in a one-time lump sum to a trust account for Freidman and Abrahamsen, a legal firm that helped represent Perrin Rogers. It is not known whether the entire amount is for legal fees or whether Perrin Rogers receives some of it.

The money came from general Senate funds, Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said.

“From the time the complaint was first filed with the EEOC in September, the Administrative Law Judge recommended mediation as a solution that would bring a more timely resolution to what had already become a protracted and public employment matter,” Betta said in a statement. “President [Bill] Galvano believed the matter would continue to negatively impact the parties and distract from the important work of the Senate, while legal fees mounted for all involved. For those reasons, President Galvano authorized the recent mediation, which led to the settlement. The settlement brings this matter to a conclusion that allows both parties to move forward.”

In the settlement, the Senate “denies any wrongdoing or unlawful acts” on the part of its elected or appointed officials, employees or other agents. The settlement bars Perrin Rogers or her legal heirs or other representatives from taking further legal action regarding her employment against the chamber, and states Perrin Rogers shall not seek future employment with the Senate.

Perrin Rogers had filed her complaint against the Florida Legislature in January 2018 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that she was subjected to “retaliatory action” after she filed a sexual harassment claim against former state Sen. Jack Latvala, the powerful Clearwater Republican and a former Senate budget chairman. The complaint alleged the Senate “knew, or should have known, of the unlawful conduct of Senator Latvala and did not take any steps to prevent his abuses and protect its employees.”

Latvala resigned before last year’s legislative session after six women — Perrin Rogers among them — anonymously spoke to Politico in November 2017 accusing Latvala of sexually harassing them. Perrin Rogers filed a confidential claim with the chamber thereafter and went public with her allegations after details of her identity were disclosed, and after she learned Latvala had read her unredacted filing.

After the allegations were made, the Senate conducted two independent investigations: One determined Perrin Rogers’ assertions Latvala groped and harassed her were likely, and he resigned in January. Another concluded Latvala might have broken state law by trading votes for sexual favors with a lobbyist, but the Leon County state attorney declined to press charges.

Since then, Perrin Rogers and her attorney asserted, Senate leaders had retaliated against her, launching an investigation triggered by an internal complaint from a coworker who had supported Latvala and curtailing her responsibilities in her current role. But before settling the case in December, the Senate had repeatedly rejected the allegations for months and fought Perrin Rogers’ case, even counter-suing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to end its investigation into Perrin Rogers’ claims.

When asked to comment Thursday night, Perrin Rogers referred a reporter to her resignation letter.

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Elizabeth Koh is a state government reporter in the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times’ Tallahassee bureau, where she covers the Florida Legislature with a focus on health care politics and policy. A Brown University graduate, she covered local politics for the Washington Post and national politics for the Dallas Morning News’ D.C. bureau before joining the Herald in 2017.