Tampa Council Chairperson Orlando Gudes created hostile work environment, probe finds

The 60-page investigative file details allegations of lewd, homophobic and sexist remarks.
In a statement, City Council Chairperson Orlando Gudes denied many of the allegations, but also acknowledged his conduct was inappropriate.
In a statement, City Council Chairperson Orlando Gudes denied many of the allegations, but also acknowledged his conduct was inappropriate. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published March 28, 2022|Updated March 29, 2022

TAMPA — A seven-month investigation of City Council Chairperson Orlando Gudes’ treatment of a former aide was released Monday, prompting Mayor Jane Castor to issue a statement saying that if she had the power to fire him, she would.

The 60-page file included an investigation conducted by the Trenam law firm, which found the account of Gudes’ former legislative aide — whose name was redacted from the report — to be credible.

Trenam attorneys interviewed 20 people who corroborated an exhaustive account of Gudes’ treatment of his aide dating back to the summer of 2019, including derogatory comments about her looks and her teenage daughter’s breast size, homophobic comments about Castor and references to another unnamed City Council member as a “p***y mother f**ker.”

Trenam concluded that 18 of 19 allegations appeared more likely than not to have occurred.

Gudes declined comment Monday, saying he needed to discuss the matter with his attorney, Ryan Barack, before making any statements. Barack also declined comment, saying he had not seen all of the documents in question.

However, a statement by Gudes that was part of his formal response to the allegations was contained in the file.

In that statement, Gudes denied many of the allegations, but also acknowledged his conduct was inappropriate.

“While I disagree with the entirety of the findings in the report, regarding my former legislative aide, I do accept responsibility for comments that I made that, while not sexual harassment, were not appropriate for the workplace,” Gudes wrote.

Castor, who is traveling in Israel this week, released the following statement:

“Since Orlando Gudes is an elected official, I have no authority over him. However, if he were a city employee he would be fired over these credible and corroborated sexual harassment revelations. I know from many years in law enforcement that it takes a great deal of courage for a victim to make harassment and hostile work environment allegations against any supervisor, let alone one as powerful as a city council chairman.”

Gudes, 54, is a retired police officer who served with Castor in the Tampa Police Department. He represents East Tampa, Ybor City, downtown and parts of West Tampa.

The report, which originated in a city human resources complaint filed by the aide in August, details numerous instances in which Gudes made crude comments to the aide. They included asking her if she was going through menopause and referring to her as “Celie,” an abused character in the Alice Walker novel The Color Purple.

The report also lists other incidents, including one in which Gudes referred to Castor, who is gay, with a derogatory term, and another in which he speculated on her sexual habits.

Gudes said he didn’t recall making a derogatory statement about Castor and denied making any statements about the mayor’s sex life.

Other allegations include Gudes telling the aide’s teenage daughter to sit up straight because “you have really big boobs and if you keep standing like that, your boobs will be down to here.”

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Gudes denied making those comments, but the aide and her daughter contradicted him.

Gudes has been an occasional critic of Castor since being elected to City Council in 2019.

Earlier this month, another sometime critic, John Dingfelder, resigned from his council seat as a part of a legal settlement involving a lawsuit filed by a local business consultant alleging that Dingfelder violated Florida’s Sunshine Law. The settlement barred Dingfelder from speaking about the matter.

A city news release reiterated that the city has no authority to discipline or take action against an elected official, but the aide could file a discrimination report with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which the city would respond to or settle.

The aide could also file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics, according to the release.

The Tampa Bay Times contacted the aide in February, who declined comment. The Times is withholding her name. Under Florida law, any information that personally identifies the alleged victim in an allegation of sexual harassment is confidential and exempt from disclosure under the Florida Public Records Act.

The former aide continues to work for the city of Tampa.

Gudes, in his statement, said he has apologized to the aide and has hired an executive coach at his own expense to improve his leadership skills and workplace sensitivity. He also wrote that he and the aide “were old friends” and it was his mistake to not establish new workplace boundaries.