A staffer for Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone filed suit earlier this month against the V.I. Legislature, claiming it failed to act to stop ongoing sexual harassment by a co-worker.
Shanika Garnett, hired in 2003 as an aide to Malone, is also suing former Senate President Ronald Russell and several legislative employees, including attorney Augustin Ayala, who Garnett alleges repeatedly propositioned her sexually over the course of several years despite being told the advances were offensive and unwanted.
The alleged harassment included multiple propositions for sex, leaving inappropriate and demeaning phone messages, saying "you look sexy when you vex," and leaning in inappropriately close.
According to Garnett, Ayala retaliated against her by "poorly drafting bills assigned to Sen. Malone."
She reported this to then Senate President Allah Donastorg in August of 2009 and requested Ayala not be assigned to draft bills for Malone, so they would not have to interact. The lawsuit includes a signed copy of that letter.
Soon after, Sen. Louis Hill replaced Donastorg as Senate president, and Garnett spoke to Hill about her concerns. But Ayala allegedly continued, and in May 2010, she wrote Hill a letter. Hill appointed an investigator who conducted five interviews, but never made any findings. In January 2011, the investigator notified Senate President Ronald Russell the investigation "was incomplete."
Garnett then filed discrimination charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to Garnett, the Legislature never responded to the EEOC complaint. The EEOC forwarded the claim to the U.S. Department of Justice, which in December issued a notice of right to sue.
The Legislature and other employees are being sued for failing to act on her complaints and allowing a hostile work environment, according to the complaint filed by Garnett’s attorney, Karin Bentz.
"Because defendant Legislature allowed the hostile work environment to exist unchecked, it created an intolerable working environment," Garnett alleges in her complaint.
Garnett’s suit seeks damages and better sexual harassment training and prevention procedures at the Legislature.
No response to the complaint had been filed as of 5 p.m. Friday.
Similar complaints were made in a sexual harassment suit filed against the Legislature and then-Sen. Usie Richards in 2006. In that case, several staffers complained about unwanted advances from Richards. Then, as now, the plaintiffs alleged they faced workplace retaliation for speaking up.
That case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in May 2009.