Florida banking regulator fired over sexual harassment allegations

Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin didn’t last a year on the job.
Jimmy Patronis at a 2015 meeting of the Public Service Commission in Tallahassee [Times files]
Jimmy Patronis at a 2015 meeting of the Public Service Commission in Tallahassee [Times files]
Published July 25, 2019|Updated July 25, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s top banking regulator was fired by the governor and Cabinet members Thursday over allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.

Capping a three-month saga that has riveted Tallahassee, Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin was removed from the job less than five months after he was hired.

Cabinet members kept their remarks brief, but Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said Rubin’s behavior went against “human decency.”

Afterward, Gov. Ron DeSantis said they had wide discretion to remove Rubin, especially if his performance wasn’t good enough.

“I think that there was clearly poor conduct, and I think it was below the standards that we should expect,” DeSantis said.

Rubin wasn’t at the meeting. But his lawyer, Michael Tein, asked the Cabinet not to fire him. He said Rubin has apologized, and that the allegations against him weren’t enough to fire him.

“I am here on behalf of Commissioner Rubin to offer an olive branch,” Tein said. “Return him back to work.”

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody joined Patronis and DeSantis in voting to remove him. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat, objected and walked away before the vote, saying the topic wasn’t properly noticed on the meeting agenda.

The agenda had simply stated that there would be a discussion of the inspector general’s report on Rubin, not whether he’d be fired.

Fried then walked out of the room, followed by reporters. When asked about her thoughts on that report, she said: “No comment.”

She later released a statement saying she supported firing Rubin and that the allegations thrown around in the saga were “a stain on the people’s Cabinet.”

But questions remained about why Rubin was hired by the Cabinet earlier this year.

Rubin hadn’t had a full-time job in four years before he was hired, and a report in Bloomberg Law stated that he’d been fired from his last job over an allegation of sexual harassment.

Patronis said he took “full responsibility” for recommending Rubin, and he said his office had done only the standard criminal background checks on him. Previously, Patronis’ office had said they did “extensive” background checks on Rubin, but his office has not yet released those records.

“It’s clear a much deeper vetting process needed to take place,” he said. “We needed to get concrete answers for his gaps in employment history and that we did not have.”

As commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, Ronald Rubin oversaw more than 300 employees who regulated the state’s banks, check-cashing stores and payday loan shops.

He made $166,000 a year, but he didn’t last in the job even half that long.

Hired by Patronis and the Cabinet in February, he was suspended, with pay, longer than he was on the job. Within weeks, he was accused of sexual harassment by a woman working in his office.

On the way to lunch, Rubin invited her up to his downtown Tallahassee condo to check out renovations he was having done. While at lunch, he discussed his family members’ sex life. And later, he offered her a key to his Washington, D.C. apartment.

The woman was so disturbed by his behavior that she hid from him at work, she later wrote. Rubin didn’t deny what happened, but said it was a misunderstanding.

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The inspector general’s investigation found other employees were upset by Rubin’s behavior as well.

According to the investigator’s report, Rubin asked an employee if their dog watched the employee and their spouse have sex, asked other employees to help move his fridge to the office, and told an employee that wearing bowties was associated “with people who are gay, Muslim or like attention.”

Regardless of his intent, Rubin’s behavior “had the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment,” the inspector general wrote.

But Rubin has fought back, claiming that Patronis’ office was pressuring him to hire and fire certain people. When Rubin didn’t hire the friend of a lobbyist, he claims Patronis cooked up the harassment allegations to get him out of office.

Rubin’s predecessor, Drew Breakspear, also said he faced political pressure from Patronis’ office. He said he was pressured to help out one of Patronis’ donors last year, and when he refused, Patronis called on him to resign.

While Rubin’s time in Tallahassee is over, issues over Patronis’ conduct are far from resolved.

Rubin has a lawsuit alleging “pay to play” in Patronis office. And the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is reviewing whether Patronis broke the law when he released the woman’s sexual harassment complaint against Rubin.

The woman says Patronis did it for political reasons — to pressure Rubin to resign. Within hours of her filing the complaint, Patronis sent it to reporters, even though the complaint form was marked “confidential and exempt” under state law.

Patronis’ general counsel, in an unusual memo, justified releasing the complaint by claiming that sexual harassment complaints do not qualify as misconduct under state law.

Patronis on Thursday declined to address the woman’s allegations, saying it was addressed in his general counsel’s memo.

He denied, however, that lobbyists’ influence was the reason why he recommended Rubin for the job.

After Patronis was asked a few questions, an aide whisked him out of the room.

Times/Herald staff writers Elizabeth Koh and Emily Mahoney contributed to this report.