Sexual harassment complaints are now being accepted in the Florida Senate.
Senate President Joe Negron announced Thursday that a law firm has been chosen, a lead investigator has been named, and a phone number has been offered up to the unnamed accusers who for the last week have refrained from coming forward after alleging in Politico Florida that were victims of unwanted physical touching and inappropriate language by Sen. Jack Latvala.
Negron announced that Individuals may contact Gail Golman Holtzman, a principal in the Tampa office of Jackson Lewis P.C., who is handling the investigation, by calling her assistant, Nicole Villa, to schedule appointments beginning tomorrow at 813.512.3215.
"The Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment, sexual assault, or misconduct of any kind,'' Negron said in an email to senators. "I encourage anyone with any information regarding the anonymous allegations to contact Ms. Holtzman. Identifying information regarding anyone who has been the victim of sexual harassment will be held confidential as permitted by law."
Latvala's lawyer, Steve Andrews, said he was pleased the Senate "has chosen a reputable law firm" but he questioned whether witnesses, as well as complainants, would be held confidential.
"The promises to witnesses may be ephemeral because anybody who is a witness to a complaint may have to subject to cross examination, motive to lie, things like that,'' he said. "We have 14-15 sworn statements and I am going to encourage this law firm to interview these people who are on the record, under oath.''
Negron launch an investigation a day after the charges surfaced in the Politico Florida report alleging allegations from staff and lobbyists against Latvala. He assigned the task of finding someone to head the effort to Karen Chandler, coordinator of the Office of Legislative Services.
Chandler reviewed five law firms and selected Jackson Lewis, a national law firm that specializes in employment law and said Holtzman will serve as the lead attorney and primary contact in the investigation. The contract is expected to be finalized on Friday.
In a memo to Negron Thursday, Chandler left the impression that Holtzman will be in Tallahassee in person to conduct interviews. She said her investigation will begin Tuesday, Nov. 14, and "continue through the week and, if necessary through the weekend. If no appointments are scheduled for the weekend, she will depart Friday evening for Tampa and return to Tallahassee Sunday, November 19, and be available for additional appointments."
Chandler did not mention lobbyists but said that "Senate employees may contact Ms. Holtzman through her assistant, Nicole Villa, to schedule appointments beginning Friday." She said Holtzman "will be assisted by her associate, Matthew Klein; employees may request a preference for either person" and added that both will be "available for appointments outside of regular business hours."
In order for employees to feel comfortable participating in this process, supervisors should not require the use of any leave time nor should supervisors inquire as to the reason for an employee’s brief time out of the office.
In a Thursday memo to Negron, Chandler said OLS "sought initial guidance from law professors at state universities in identifying firms specializing in this field. Consideration was given to firms with sufficient and balanced resources to conduct an investigation of this nature in a time sensitive manner. Other criteria that were considered in order to ensure a fair and objective investigation were its independence from the Florida Legislature in regards to appropriation of state funds and governmental relations."
She said OLS also considered firms "that could accommodate the sensitive nature of the subject matter given that media reports stated that the victims were fearful of sharing their experiences."
Holtzman, who has more than 30 years experience practicing law, specializes in "federal and state labor and employment claims...including those alleging discrimination, harassment, retaliation/whistleblower, wage/hour and breach of employment contract."
She is the immediate past chair of the ABA Labor and Employment Section. Jackson Lewis has more than 800 attorneys in major cities nationwide and focuses primarily on workplace law.
The Senate confirmed Thursday that it has received a sworn complaint from one individual alleging harassment, but has refused to name which senator it made the allegations against.