A $900,000 sexual harassment settlement: are there any real winners?

by | Jan 4, 2019

Thursday’s announcement that a settlement had been reached in the sexual harassment case involving the Florida Senate and a top legislative aid to future Senate president Wilton Simpson brings an end to a dark chapter in the history of the Florida Senate.

It’s a settlement in which there is no real winner.

As part of the settlement, Rachel Perrin Rogers will resign from the state Senate on Friday after reaching agreement with the chamber for nearly $1 million over sexual harassment and workplace discrimination allegations.

The agreement comes more than a year after Perrin Rogers and other women who chose to remain anonymous brought allegations of sexual harassment against former state senator Jack Latvala.

Perrin Rogers later filed a federal discrimination complaint that alleged gender discrimination and that the Senate retaliated against her due to her initial complaint against Latvala.

Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Sen. President Bill Galvano, said Galvano and Senate leaders felt agreeing to the settlement was the best course of action for the Senate.

“President 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,” Betta said. “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.”

While the agreement may bring an end to the sexual harassment case, it also marks the likely end of Latvala’s political career as the result of his own actions, and marks the end of Perrin Rogers‘ job as a top legislative aide to Simpson.

“I feel an immense sadness that at this time I am no longer able to do this work for you in the Senate. Thank you for your unwavering support,” Perrin Rogers wrote in a resignation letter, which was addressed to Simpson. “Having the opportunity to assist as you’ve served your constituents has been an honor.”

While the settlement prohibits Perrin Rogers from applying for a new job within the current Senate, the agreement allows any future Senate President to modify that portion of the agreement.

Latvala denied any wrongdoing but  resigned in December 2017 after a report by an independent special master concluded that he likely inappropriately touched Rogers. The special master also concluded Latvala may have broken the law by supporting legislation in exchange for sex acts. However, the Leon County state attorney decided there was insufficient evidence to pursue legal charges against Latvala.

Not only did it end Latvala’s Senate career, it undermined any chances he had in his bid for Florida governor.

Perhaps the only winners in the settlement are the state officials who would have been called to the witness stand had the case been allowed to proceed. Had the case continued, it would have likely forced testimony from some of the state’s top politicians, including Latvala, former Senate President Joe Negron and even Attorney General Pam Bondi, about some of the darker moments in state legislative history.

Despite this week’s settlement, the issue of sexual harassment remains an ongoing matter for state lawmakers. Even with all of the attention given to the issue, legislators failed to reach an agreement during the 2018 session on ways to change state law to prevent and punish sexual harassment in the future..

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