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Ex-worker sues Elder Affairs

Published Aug. 24, 2005

A 64-year-old former employee at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs has filed an age and gender discrimination lawsuit against the agency that handles services to the state's senior citizens.

The lawsuit marks the second time in recent weeks the agency has been in the headlines. Last week Gov. Jeb Bush abruptly fired the secretary, Terry White, for allegedly making sexual overtures to women who worked for him.

Ralph Rewes filed his lawsuit against the Department of Elder Affairs in late December, saying the agency treated him differently from younger employees and women and paid him less than similarly situated younger co-workers.

When he complained to supervisors, Rewes said they handed out "additional harassment and harm" and caused his "constructive termination."

Rewes, who lives in Hialeah, declined on Monday to discuss the details of his complaint. He referred questions to his attorney, Marie Maddox of Tallahassee. She did not return telephone calls.

Martha Pratt, spokeswoman for Elder Affairs, said attorneys for the agency are reviewing the lawsuit and declined to comment.

In the lawsuit, Rewes said he suffered emotional distress, mental pain and suffering and lost income and enjoyment of life as a result of the way he was treated.

Rewes worked at the agency nearly four years. His lawsuit claims he was replaced by younger people. He seeks actual and punitive damages.

Initially, Rewes filed a complaint with the Florida Human Relations Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, then sued on Dec. 23.

Rewes was born in Havana as Rafael Ruiz, but changed his name when he became an American citizen. He wrote newsletters for Rep. Manuel Priguez, R-Miami, and worked at the Department of Environmental Protection in 1999 before taking a job at Elder Affairs in March 2000. He was hired by Gema Hernandez, White's predecessor.

Before working for the state, Rewes wrote advertising copy in English, Spanish and Portuguese for agencies in South Florida in addition to newsletters. He has published several books and previously served as editor of Geo Mundo, a magazine similar to National Geographic that circulates in Latin America.

Ruiz left Elder Affairs in December 2003 saying he was taking early retirement, according to a letter he submitted then.