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For once, a state agency does the right thing


© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 4, 2001

It's rare to see one state agency take action that embarrasses another, but it happened this week.

It is also rare to see the state actually do much about sexual harassment.

The Florida Ethics Commission filed formal sexual harassment charges this week against an official at the Florida Department of Transportation.

That official, Rudy Maloy, also is a Leon County commissioner who was recently suspended by Gov. Jeb Bush after being charged with the theft of county travel funds. Maloy is a former chairman of the state Association of County Commissioners.

Maloy also is in hot water with his bosses at DOT for allegedly falsifying travel records, sleeping in his office and having sex with an employee in his office 20 different times. He acknowledges having sex, but says it was consensual and was not in his office.

A report released by DOT on Thursday finds Maloy in violation of the agency's rules. DOT Secretary Tom Barry will decide whether Maloy keeps his $51,000 state job.

Earlier this year, Maloy began fighting charges of sexually harassing several women who worked for the county. The women say they were compelled to have sex with Maloy for fear of losing their jobs if they refused.

Almost everyone ignored similar allegations made by a young woman at DOT, despite statements from several other women who confirmed much of her complaint and added a few complaints of their own.

Eugene Danaher, a retired General Motors executive who often looks into local and state government, took up the cause of the young women in 1996. And earlier this year, at the request of Leon County commissioners, Gov. Bush asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.

Danaher is not very popular with state or county officials, but he does get a lot of telephone calls from victims of sexual harassment.

In Maloy's case, officials at DOT first investigated in 1996. The investigator initially determined that the complaint was well founded, but she was overruled and the agency did nothing except demote the woman who complained after she refused to work for Maloy.

The woman accused Maloy of kissing and hugging her and repeatedly putting his hands on her hips without her consent.

Danaher went to bat for the woman. He got copies of records at DOT and began questioning why no one was willing to do anything. Danaher even tried to get answers from then-Gov. Lawton Chiles' inspector general.

From the people in charge, Danaher earned mostly silence and scorn. But he persisted and last December, when other women complained about Maloy's conduct with county employees, Danaher was ready. He filed the formal complaint with the Ethics Commission.

After an investigation, the commission decided there is enough evidence to charge Maloy with soliciting sexual favors from women and abusing his public position by demanding sex from employees. The commission also found a lot wrong with the way DOT officials handled the earlier complaint.

You might think Danaher would be feeling good, but he's not.

"I fear that people will do nothing about this," Danaher said. "They've been covering up for seven years. I'm mad as hell; I'm outraged."

Maloy admits to some inappropriate conduct, but plans to fight all of the charges. What happens to him is only part of the story.

The rest comes from women and a few men who don't make very much money and don't get much help when a supervisor decides to pursue unwanted sex.

One woman told Ethics Commission investigators she did not complain about sexual advances because "it was easier and probably in my best interests."

The state owes much more to its workers, many of them single mothers who desperately need their jobs.

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