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Ex-employee sues Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner, claiming wrongful firing

TAMPA — The former human resources director who accused Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner of sending her pornographic emails filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in federal court Tuesday.

Carolyn Filippone says she was fired for filing a sexual discrimination complaint against Turner with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She is seeking back and future pay, unspecified damages and attorneys' fees — costs that likely will run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars if she prevails.

The lawsuit makes no mention of the allegations Filippone raised in her EEOC complaint: That Turner sent her dozens of pornographic emails, made other spoken sexual advances, then banished her to a satellite office shortly after his wife learned of their correspondence.

Those details are no longer particularly relevant, said Chris Jayson, one of Filippone's attorneys. The lawsuit is ultimately a wrongful termination case claiming Turner fired his client for filing a workplace complaint, which she had every right to do, he said.

"This suit is straightforward," Jayson said. "She has a legal right to try to protect herself under the EEOC and she was punished for it. You just can't do that."

Filippone, 49, had worked for Turner since shortly after he was first elected in 1996. Having worked previously with Turner at NationsBank, she arrived as a part-time computer trainer and rose to the head of human resources, training and community relations, making nearly $100,000 a year.

In her complaint, Filippone says she and Turner dated for a period after she was hired, which Turner has confirmed, though their time frames differ.

She filed her EEOC complaint in March 2010, claiming Turner sexually discriminated against her by shipping her to a satellite office in Brandon for refusing his sexual advances. As part of her complaint, she provided copies of dozens of pornographic emails she said she received from Turner as evidence of his advances.

The complaint was dismissed in April of this year, without explanation, clearing the way for the lawsuit.

Turner had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment through his office's attorney. In a recorded May interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Turner admitted sending pornographic emails to Filippone. But he said they were part of a mutual and consensual exchange that took place during nonwork hours using personal equipment.

He then fired Filippone as the Times was preparing its story for publication, and a news media onslaught ensued. Turner has said he fired Filippone for making false claims about him to the EEOC.

He also has said her complaint contained several inaccuracies. Filippone was not banished, but relocated with other employees who work with sensitive records and equipment that would be at risk downtown if a hurricane strikes, Turner has said. She also was not cut off from other employees, as she claimed, as she regularly visited the downtown office and attended social events with co-workers, Turner has said.

He has described his dating relationship with Filippone and his email correspondence with her as "personal mistakes."

Revelations of those mistakes couldn't have come at a worse time for him politically. Turner, 60, immediately attracted two well-known opponents in his bid for a fifth term.

State Sen. Ronda Storms is challenging him in the Aug. 14 Republican primary. The winner faces former state Rep. Bob Henriquez and two candidates who are running without party affiliation, James DeMio and Rob Townsend.

He also is facing an electorate that has endured its share of highly publicized payouts to public employees connected to misbehavior on the job in recent years.

Most notably, taxpayers picked up the roughly half-million dollar legal tab of former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, who a jury found sexually discriminated against a former aide.

Jayson said Filippone can claim up to $300,000 in damages as well as back pay from the time she was fired until the case goes to court, which could easily top $100,000.

She also is asking for her old job back.

"That may be hard to do because of the nature of the relationship," he said.

So, she may seek pay she will not receive in the future if she is unable to land another job at comparable pay, or as much as another two years of pay. And she is seeking payment for her attorneys' fees, which, if White is an example, could top $200,000. It's not clear if Turner will hire outside counsel, but, if so, the county likely would have to pick up those costs.

The county has an insurance policy against such claims, but it carries a $350,000 deductible and doesn't necessarily cover all the costs arising from such a lawsuit.

Tom Gonzalez, an employment lawyer not connected to this case who has worked on government-sector labor lawsuits, said Jayson's figures are reasonable estimates.

Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.

On May 21, Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner fired his human resources director, Carolyn Filippone. Her termination came as the Tampa Bay Times was preparing to report on a sexual discrimination complaint Filippone had filed against Turner in 2010 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the story, Turner acknowledged sending pornographic emails to Filippone, whom he said he once dated. The emails, she says, are evidence of his unwanted sexual advances after their breakup, which preceded her getting moved to another office. He says they were a mutual exchange that took place outside of work. Following is a look at their sometimes conflicting accounts based on public records; Filippone's EEOC complaint, Turner's response and her rebuttal; and interviews with their attorneys.

Carolyn Filippone

1989 — 1997: Senior administrative assistant at NationsBank.

July 1, 1997: Hired by Turner as a part-time automation training specialist at $17.95 an hour. No resume, application or college degree are included in her personnel file.

May 12, 1998: Files for divorce from her husband.

June 23, 1998: Divorce finalized.

July 31, 1998: Title changed to director of training, part time, same pay.

May 3, 1999: Receives associate's degree in liberal arts from Hillsborough Community College.

??? 2006: An EEOC complaint says she had "an adult relationship" with Turner ending in 2006, with an unspecified start date.

2000-2002: The time frame during which they actually dated, according to her current legal team's investigator.

July 24, 2001: Receives 16 percent pay raise from $21.27 an hour to $24.73. No explanation cited in personnel file.

2002-2005: Had occasional drinks, dinners or lunches with Turner.

Feb. 17, 2003: Promoted to full-time director of human resources and training. Pay increases 22 percent from $26.65 to $32.45 an hour.

Aug. 28, 2003: Given 6.7 percent raise to $34.62 per hour, coinciding with annual evaluation.

Aug. 31, 2004: "Education" added to job title, given 7 percent raise to $37.03 an hour.

Aug. 12, 2005: Receives bachelor of arts degree from USF's College of Business Administration.

Nov. 11, 2007 Feb. 17, 2009: Filippone gets more than 40 emails from Turner's personal account containing graphic porn or links to pornographic websites.

Sept. 19, 2008: Final pay raise, from $45.19 to $47.12, before salaries are frozen for county workers. Community services added to job duties.

Feb. 9, 2009: Receives email from Turner indicating his wife has seen text communication between the two. It reads: "Major problem at home. I will contact you asap. Donna tracked your number to you. Blame me for anything."

Early 2009, but after Feb. 9 email: Moved from downtown property appraiser's office, where Turner works, to the Brandon office.

March 24, 2010: Files sexual discrimination claim against Turner with EEOC. Claims Turner made intermittent verbal requests for sexual intercourse, and other advances, from 2001 to 2010. Says the last was on March 12, 2010, when she claims he made a comment about her breasts. Alleges that she was banished to Brandon office, cut off from contact with Turner and other peers, and had some job duties taken away after Turner's wife, Donna, discovered his text messages to Filippone.

April 18, 2012: EEOC dismisses Filippone's complaint without explanation.

May 21, 2012: Fired by Turner after Tampa Bay Times asks him questions about Filippone's EEOC complaint.

Tuesday: Sues Turner, claiming wrongful termination.

Rob Turner

Nov. 5, 1996: Elected Hillsborough property appraiser after 23 years in banking, most recently NationsBank.

July 1, 1997: Hires Carolyn Hendricks, whose married name would later become Filippone, to part-time job of automation training specialist.

Nov. 7, 2000: Turner comfortably wins re-election.

Oct. 31, 2001: Turner's prior wife, Vivian, files for divorce.

October 2000 first quarter of 2002: Time frame Turner initially gives in May 2012 interview while acknowledging he once dated Filippone.

October 2001 first quarter of 2002: Time frame he gives after his chief deputy, Warren Weathers, corrects him.

Early 2002: Begins dating his current wife, then Donna Marino.

Early 2002 to 2009: Time frame during which Turner said he occasionally goes to lunch, dinner or for drinks with Filippone, as he said he does with other office employees.

Nov. 13, 2002: Divorce finalized.

Aug. 31. 2004: Easily wins re-election in primary.

July 7, 2007: Marries Donna Marino.

November 2007 to February 2009: Admits to sending pornographic emails to Filippone, along with such items as cartoons and pictures of kittens and puppies. He contends the emails were part of a mutual and consensual exchange that took place after hours using personal equipment.

Aug. 26, 2008: Turner comfortably wins re-election in primary.

Early 2009: Says his wife discovered communications from Filippone, but says they were sexually graphic images sent to him. Acknowledges in a response that, in an "unfortunate lapse in judgment," he responded in kind.

March 2009: Moves Filippone's human resources staff to Brandon office, along with information technology employees. Contends it was part of a larger, preventive move to protect sensitive office materials and equipment from weather threats.

June 2009: Says that, during a meeting, the topic of Filippone's breasts was broached. But he said it was only after she mentioned having a recent surgical procedure. Contends his only response was that he "hoped her surgery went well."

May 10, 2010: In response to Filippone's discrimination complaint, he denies making requests for sexual intercourse or sending her "any" sexual emails, text messages or photographs beyond the series of texts that his wife discovered, despite his later admission to the Times. Turner presents pictures showing Filippone attended social events she claimed to have been banned from as well as other evidence that she regularly visited County Center.

May 21, 2012: Fires Filippone after a Times reporter asks him about the complaint, saying she was dismissed for making false allegations to the EEOC.

Bill Varian, Times Staff Writer

Conflicting accounts in public records

Ex-employee sues Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner, claiming wrongful firing 07/03/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 11:41pm]
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