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Pasco health director made 'inappropriate' comments to employee, report says

NEW PORT RICHEY — For at least six months, Pauline Mousseau said she had heard these words at work: "I love you."

She said they were spoken by her boss, Dr. David R. Johnson, director of the Pasco County Health Department, where she worked for five years as his secretary. And they made her uncomfortable. She said she told the human resources manager but asked him not to report it.

Then on June 27, Mousseau, 53, filed a formal sexual harassment complaint. It came a day after a conversation with Johnson in which he mentioned her "panties," she told investigators. Johnson denied making the comment, which couldn't be verified because there were no other witnesses.

On July 12, 10 days after the state launched its investigation, Johnson, 59, resigned.

A report released on Tuesday by the Department of Health's Office of Inspector General determined that while Johnson's actions stopped short of violating the agency's sexual harassment policy, he did make inappropriate comments. According to the report, no allegations involved physical contact.

"The subject knew or should have known that telling an employee that you love them would be inappropriate," the report said. It said that Johnson had generated "an offensive, intimidating, or oppressive atmosphere" that made his secretary fear going to work.

In his interview with investigators, Johnson admitted to telling Mousseau that he loved her, but says he has told other staffers the same thing.

"I have said love you like a family member," he said, adding that he supported Mousseau as she dealt with some personal problems.

The report also determined that human resources manager Alan Colville violated agency policy by failing to report the situation when he first learned of it in December. The policy says that any supervisor who learns of possible sexual harassment must report it within 24 hours to an equal opportunity manager at the state Department of Health's human resources bureau.

"It is recommended that management take action as deemed appropriate," the report said.

Mousseau and Colville, who are still working for the Pasco health department, declined to comment. Colville is on medical leave until January to care for an ailing family member.

"The two are not related," he said, referring to his leave and the investigation.

Mike Napier is serving as acting administrator of the Pasco County Health Department.

Johnson's attorney, Todd Foster, said his client harbored no ill will against the health department. He noted that investigators could not substantiate the sexual harassment allegations and that Johnson's only mistake was trying to help an employee.

"He expressed true admiration and true concern for a person and that leads to his sanctioning," he said. "It's very sad."

Foster said Johnson had an impressive resume: The doctor was an Air Force flight surgeon and family practice physician who also directed an occupational health center in Ohio before coming to Pasco. "He was a solid person with an untarnished reputation," Foster said.

Johnson was hired in 2006 to lead the Pasco County Health Department, overseeing an agency with 15 employees and a $10 million budget. The department provides a number of public health services, including immunizations, HIV testing, dental services and healthy start programs for lower income mothers and their children.

Mousseau was hired in 2007 and promoted twice, becoming Johnson's "right hand," according to the Office of Inspector General's report. She sat in on nearly all his meetings, traveled with him, answered his phone, handled his mail and kept his calendar.

Still, Mousseau thought she wasn't doing enough and asked for additional duties, office manager Connie Brooks told investigators.

"For the most part, she is bored," Brooks said. "She has requested additional work but (Johnson) has turned her down because he says he needs her available for him."

In December Mousseau met with Colville and told him that Johnson had made remarks that made her uncomfortable.

She said he looked at a photo collage on her desk that included a snapshot of her embracing her husband and said, "I get jealous." She also told Colville that Johnson had started coming to her church "and she felt she was being stalked," the report said.

She told Colville about the "I love you" comments and how Johnson would chuckle and add "I know I'm not supposed to say that."

All this needed to be reported, Colville told her. But Mousseau begged him not to, saying her life would be "miserable" if he did. So he kept it quiet but said he regularly checked on Mousseau to make sure she was all right.

Then on June 28, she asked Colville to have her reassigned. A day earlier, she and Johnson were discussing the new dress code while driving to a meeting. She told Johnson she would be working at home on Fridays so she would be wearing pajamas.

"But will you be wearing your panties?" she said was his response.

Colville told investigators that Mousseau explained that she could not take the harassment anymore because there was a "knot in her stomach." When he urged her to report it, she refused, saying she didn't want to cause trouble.

She left and returned about 20 minutes later, complaint in hand.

Johnson told investigators a different story. He denied saying anything inappropriate and said that the conversation about the dress code took place in Mousseau's office, not a car.

He said Mousseau "got upset" about the dress code and mentioned her pajamas, which she had brought up before.

"I was confused by the conversations," he told investigators. "As I left, I might have made a comment."

As for the photo of Mousseau and her husband, Johnson said, "I told her she had a good looking family."

Johnson also characterized Mousseau as a woman struggling with health and family problems who had reached out to him and his wife for help. One night, he said, she called him at home and asked to borrow $5,000 to help her deal with a family crisis. He said his wife wrote her a $3,000 check.

"She was distressed and she would break down at work," he said. "My wife felt very sorry for her."

Colville, the human resources manager, said Johnson had asked him whether he'd be "breaking any rules" by loaning money to an employee having financial trouble.

"I told him that I was not aware of any official direction preventing him from doing so, but I strongly advised against it," Colville told investigators. "It is my opinion that this is not a good management practice. I was not aware of the employee, or the amount, or his ultimate decision."

Mousseau told investigators Johnson mentioned a point in time when he "fell in love" with her.

"I reacted immediately by crossing my hands in front of me and shaking my head no," she said.

Johnson told investigators the word love came up, but "not in that context." He said a "supportive" relationship had developed, noting he and his wife had hosted Mousseau and her husband for dinner at their home, and he and his grandchild had accompanied them to the fair.

"We cared for them," he said.

Pasco health director made 'inappropriate' comments to employee, report says 09/12/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 8:58pm]
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