Former aide sues Tampa Councilman Orlando Gudes

The lawsuit describes allegations of inappropriate comments and conduct Gudes made toward the aide and her daughter.
Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes is seen during a council meeting March 31 in Tampa.
Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes is seen during a council meeting March 31 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published May 18, 2022|Updated May 18, 2022

TAMPA — A former aide to Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes, along with the aide’s daughter, have filed a lawsuit against him over what it describes as a pattern of inappropriate and emotionally distressing behavior toward them.

The complaint filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court on Monday reiterates many of the 18 allegations of sexual harassment brought by the aide against Gudes that a city-commissioned investigation found to be credible. It also adds to the allegations in what the lawsuit describes amounted to a “nightmare” for the aide.

The suit seeks unspecified damages for two counts of intentional infliction of emotional distress on the aide and her minor daughter, and one count of defamation against the former aide. It claims Gudes falsely denied the aide’s claims, inappropriately denigrated her work performance and knowingly made false statements about her to the point that she cannot find comparable employment.

Related: City of Tampa settles with aide who says council member harassed her

Gudes stepped down as the council chairperson in March in the wake of the allegations, but he declined to resign his elected position.

“Everyone has their day to be vindicated,” he said at the time. “I’m waiting for that day to happen.”

Gudes did not respond to a call for comment for this story. His attorney, Ryan Barack, released a statement Wednesday, in which said Gudes would “vigorously defend” himself. The statement noted that the city had reached a settlement agreement with the former aide before the lawsuit was filed. It accused the city of concealing the settlement negotiations from Gudes and the council.

“It is important to remember that there has been no sworn testimony from anyone,” Barack wrote. “Further, this purported agreement is designed to protect the Mayor, the City Attorney and their Human Resources department and was entered into prior to any lawsuit being filed.”

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

“The complaint speaks for itself,” said Ethan Loeb, the attorney representing the former aide and her daughter. “It’s just awful.”

The complaint describes a litany of sexual comments and other inappropriate behavior that Gudes allegedly made in the two years that the aide worked for him. Most of them were documented in a review by the Trenam Law firm that was commissioned by the city.

It also makes several claims about Gudes’ actions on the job, accusing him, among other things, of not living in the district he represents. Barack, his attorney, said Gudes “has resided in District 5 beyond the required period of time as set forth in the City Charter.”

The complaint also alleges Gudes refused to meet with local activists and leaders who were not giving him sexual favors and made sexually inappropriate comments to college-age interns at the city.

The lawsuit states that Gudes made demeaning comments toward the aide, including referring to her as “Celie,” an abused character in the novel The Color Purple. It also recounts an incident in which Gudes is alleged to have commented on the aide’s daughter’s breast size. And it references several other comments Gudes is alleged to have made, including derogatory and crude sexual comments about Mayor Jane Castor.

The aide and her daughter are identified in the complaint only by their initials. It states that the aide went to work for Gudes in 2019 and left last year.

After the aide’s allegations surfaced, the complaint claims Gudes took actions to pressure her to drop the matter. It mentions communications Gudes had with “the media” and things he said in public in which he disputed the allegations.

It notes requests that Tampa Bay Times reporter Charlie Frago made to view her personnel file and a call made to her for comment. Such efforts are a normal part of the news gathering process.

The complaint alleges Gudes made a “smear campaign” against the former aide and her daughter.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial.