State settles harassment suit

Published October 28, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - The Department of Elder Affairs has agreed to settle a lawsuit and give $100,000 to a former employee who accused the agency's former chief of sexual harassment.

Kimberly Johnson filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee earlier this year against Terry White, who used to run the department, which supervises services to senior citizens. Gov. Jeb Bush fired White in January 2005 after three women employees alleged that he asked them for oral sex.

Johnson is not one of the three. But her lawsuit would have sought to reveal their identities to help support her case in court.

Tallahassee attorney Rob Larkin, who was hired to represent the state, said the lawsuit would have been "very expensive to litigate." And several agency employees who might have been asked to testify by deposition or at trial said they didn't want to get involved.

"We didn't settle this case because we didn't think we could win it, but for financial and disruption issues," Larkin said.

Johnson's lawsuit states that within weeks after she started work at the department in June 2003, White started to refer to her as "his girl" and would touch her breast and behind. He also kissed her on the mouth and neck and exposed himself to her in his office and other confined spaces, the lawsuit said.

The suit says Johnson was denied promotions and other job benefits as a consequence of complaining about White's conduct. She was fired this past July 20 after she filed the suit, her attorney, Lindsay Oyewale, said.

"The matter has been resolved," Oyewale said.

The state says Johnson was fired for reasons unrelated to the lawsuit.

Times staff writer Joni James contributed to this report.