TALLAHASSEE — In a whistleblower lawsuit involving two well-known Capitol insiders, a former high-ranking employee of Florida TaxWatch accused the nonprofit organization’s leader of sexual harassment, drinking on the job and retaliation.
Tony Carvajal, a veteran Tallahassee policy analyst, spent less than three years as executive vice president at Florida TaxWatch Research Institute Inc. before being fired in April by the organization’s longtime president and CEO, Dominic Calabro.
In a lawsuit filed this week, Carvajal alleged that he was wrongfully terminated after complaining to other TaxWatch leaders that Calabro was sexually harassing female staff members and encouraging employees to drink alcohol at work.
Calabro “was drinking alcohol in the workplace, making inappropriate comments in the workplace, making advances towards females, ostracizing employees who did not join him in drinking alcohol,” the lawsuit filed in Leon County Circuit Court said.
Carvajal, who was hired by TaxWatch in December 2020, said “no corrective action was taken” after he reported the concerns to other officials.
TaxWatch, whose website says it “works to improve the productivity and accountability of Florida government,” is best known for releasing an annual “turkeys” list targeting questionable items in the state budget.
TaxWatch’s executive committee is composed of executives from major businesses such as Publix Supermarkets Inc., Florida Power & Light and AvMed Health Plans. Its board of trustees also boasts some of Florida’s most influential movers and shakers.
Calabro, who has been at the helm of TaxWatch for four decades, pulls down an annual salary upwards of $300,000, according to the organization’s tax filings. The organization reported nearly $2.3 million in revenue in 2020, the records showed.
In a statement provided to The News Service of Florida, TaxWatch’s attorney denied allegations of wrongdoing.
“It is unfortunate that a former employee chose this path after his April 2023 termination. Mr. Carvajal’s initial complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Labor resulted in a finding that his allegations are without merit and that his discharge for misconduct was appropriate. Florida TaxWatch is a private non-profit entity and will not comment any further on pending litigation,” Jeff Kottkamp, who serves as an executive vice president and general counsel at the organization, said in the statement. Kottkamp is a former lieutenant governor of Florida.
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In a phone interview Thursday, Carvajal told the News Service that he filed two whistleblower complaints against TaxWatch and that Kottkamp’s statement did not fully address the allegations.
“They are not directly addressing the harassment questions, the drinking. There is a second complaint that he should explain further because it is a second whistleblower complaint that has not run through its complete course,” Carvajal said.
Carvajal filed a complaint with the federal Labor Department that alleged financial wrongdoing at TaxWatch. An administrative judge dismissed the complaint, but Carvajal is appealing, according to agency records.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Leon County Circuit Court stems from a complaint filed with the state Commission on Human Relations this year.
Carvajal has a lengthy resume that includes stints at the Able Trust, the Florida Chamber Foundation and the Florida Commission on Ethics, where he served as a member for four years. He was tapped as CEO of the Florida Association of Colleges in July.
Carvajal’s lawsuit, filed by attorney Marie Mattox, alleges a dysfunctional workplace where Calabro encouraged other employees to drink on the job and “was sexually harassing female employees by making inappropriate comments and sexual advances.”
According to the lawsuit, a female employee “expressed concerns about some of the conversations Calabro had with her and the fact that Calabro was inviting her to drink alone with him.” Several other employees also complained about Calabro, the lawsuit said. Carvajal reported the allegations to TaxWatch’s chairman, Piyush Patel, who referred him to Calabro’s “presidential adviser,” Steve Evans.
The lawsuit said Carvajal complained to Evans on numerous occasions from July 2022 through February 2023.
For example, Carvajal told Evans in November 2022 that he was “having to confront” Calabro “more and more about employees complaining that Calabro was harassing them,” according to the lawsuit.
In one instance, Calabro asked a female employee to work during a holiday when the office was closed. The woman told Carvajal she was afraid of retaliation if she turned Calabro down.
Carvajal told Patel about the complaints the month before he was fired.
“Patel told plaintiff his concerns should be handled by Evans who reported to Calabro,” the lawsuit said.
In Thursday’s phone interview, Carvajal pointed to his tenure on the ethics commission, where he said he regularly dealt with similar issues.
“It’s hard for people to come forward, so if you don’t come forward, you’re leaving the next person in line at risk,” he said. “I’ve walked on the right side of this for my entire professional career so that people don’t ever question me. This is tough, but if I, with my position and my stature, don’t do this, who will?”
By Dara Kam, News Service of Florida