TALLAHASSEE — A federal complaint from a top Florida Senate aide alleging sexual harassment and retaliation in the chamber will continue to move forward, a judge ruled Monday, rejecting arguments from the Legislature that procedural and legal defects rendered the case moot.
Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, had alleged in a discrimination complaint filed against the Florida Legislature in January that she had been retaliated against once she filed a sexual harassment claim against former state Sen. Jack Latvala, the powerful Clearwater Republican who had chaired the Senate budget committee before he resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct.
The state Senate's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the complaint late last month, but this week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicated her case would continue to proceed.
The lawyers had argued that they had insufficient due process and that Perrin Rogers' claim was insufficiently substantiated, which the court asserted did not meet the threshold for dismissal.
The judge, Alexander Fernandez, also took issue with lawyers' arguments that that the "Florida Legislature," which is named in the suit, is not technically her employer because the Senate is, though the Legislature is listed on Perrin Rogers' pay stubs.
"A review of Respondent's arguments on this issue suggests to the Court that Respondent is intent on playing a game of cat-and-mouse," Fernandez wrote. "Rather than simply identifying whom they believe the proper respondent should be, they insist on arguing the merits of the case on Motions to Dismiss."
Perrin Rogers has until Nov. 13 to file a amended complaint, and the Legislature's lawyers are required to file an answer by Nov. 27. The case has been rescheduled to be heard in federal administrative court starting March 18 in Tampa.
The state Senate has also counter-sued the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Division of Florida to end its investigation into Perrin Rogers' claims, alleging that the action "violates the Florida Senate's sovereign and constitutional rights," including "the Senate's sovereign immunity."
Though that case does not explicitly name Perrin Rogers as a defendant, the Senate requested a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to halt the federal inquiry. A hearing on that motion is scheduled Nov. 8.
Perrin Rogers was among six women who had anonymously spoken to Politico in November accusing Latvala of sexually harassing them, and she filed a confidential claim with the chamber thereafter. She subsequently went public with her allegations after details of her identity were disclosed, and after she learned Latvala had read her unredacted filing.
Since then, Perrin Rogers and her attorney asserted, Senate leaders had retaliated against her, launching an investigation triggered by an internal complaint from a coworker who had supported Latvala and curtailing her responsibilities in her current role.
After the allegations were made, the Senate conducted two independent investigations: One determined Perrin Rogers' assertions Latvala groped and harassed her were likely and he resigned in January. Another concluded Latvala might have broken state law by trading votes for sexual favors with a lobbyist, but the Leon County state attorney declined to press charges.
Last month, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, denied Perrin Rogers' allegations of retaliation in a statement sent to reporters.
"The Florida Senate has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment or misconduct of any kind against any employee or visitor," Negron wrote. "The complaint of sexual harassment in this case was immediately and fully investigated. At all times the Senate has acted appropriately and there has been no retaliation."
Negron spokeswoman Katie Betta declined to comment on the new developments Tuesday.