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Rob Turner settles lawsuit with former HR director he sent porn

TAMPA — Departing Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner has settled a wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by a former human resources director to whom he admitting sending pornography.

The $135,000 settlement was reached after a mediation session last week between Turner, former human resources director Carolyn Filippone and their attorneys.

The settlement will be paid for with tax money, but not require a new appropriation. The appraiser's office will cover it through staff attrition savings.

"We will not have to request additional monies from the county," Will Shepherd, general counsel for the office, said Monday night. "It was funded from our existing budget."

Incoming Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez said he was informed of the settlement by Turner's office and was told the case will be fully resolved before he takes office Jan. 8.

"I'm pleased that the two sides came together and put this behind, for them personally and for the office, so we can start off with a completely clean slate," Henriquez said. "I'd hate to have that hanging over me."

Attempts to reach attorneys for Filippone late Monday were unsuccessful. Shepherd said the appraiser's office would have no additional comment.

Turner admitted to the Tampa Bay Times in May that he sent multiple pornographic emails from late 2007 to early 2009 to Filippone, a woman he acknowledged he had once dated while she worked for him. The admission came as the Times was preparing a story about a sexual-discrimination complaint Filippone had filed against Turner with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that was based in part on the emails.

Filippone had claimed that she lost some of her job duties, was banished to a satellite office and generally ostracized from co-workers for rebuffing Turner's advances. The EEOC declined to take action on her complaint.

Turner fired Filippone as the Times was preparing its story.

Turner steadfastly denied that he had harassed or discriminated against Filippone, while admitting that dating her and sending her email with graphic sexual images were "personal mistakes." He said the emails were part of a mutual exchange that took place during nonwork hours using personal equipment.

Their dating occurred during Turner's early years in office and lasted briefly, he said, while both were single after prior divorces. Turner was remarried at the time that he acknowledged sending Filippone porn, and he said the "exchange" ended after his wife discovered some of their electronic correspondence.

Until then, Turner appeared to be easily headed to a fifth term, facing two relatively little-known challengers in a bid for re-election after 16 years in office. The revelations drew two new opponents, then-state Sen. Ronda Storms and Henriquez, a former state representative.

Storms, who left a safe re-election campaign for a final term in the Senate, trounced Turner in the Republican primary, campaigning almost exclusively on his X-rated conduct. Then Henriquez, a Democrat, easily defeated Storms in the November general election.

Turner stopped taking calls from news media outlets not long after the initial story broke, for a time answering questions only in writing, if at all.

The agreement brings to a close the latest county legal dispute that has resulted in a payout by taxpayers.

The county amassed nearly a half-million dollars in expenses in 2009 from a sexual discrimination civil suit brought by a former aide to then-County Commissioner Kevin White, now in prison after an unrelated bribery conviction. White denied he fired aide Alyssa Ogden for refusing his multiple sexual advances, as she claimed, but a jury said otherwise, awarding her $75,000.

A federal judge ordered the county to pick up Ogden's legal expenses. And the county subsequently lost a legal bid to get White to pay some of the costs. Its insurer was forced to pick up his lawyers' expenses.

Earlier this year, a state court judge also ordered the county to pay full severance — more than $300,000 — to former County Administrator Pat Bean, who was fired two years earlier. Bean also won repayment of legal expenses for defending herself against an investigation into allegations that she illegally gave herself a raise, a claim commissioners used as justification to fire her without severance.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3387.

Rob Turner settles lawsuit with former HR director he sent porn 12/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 12:09am]
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