ST. PETE BEACH — A former public works employee has sued the city, charging that he was subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation while working there.
Frances Finnan filed the suit March 29 in Pinellas County Circuit Court. He began working in the Public Works Department in September 2017. In March 2018, he reported that several employees were “creating a toxic and degrading work environment. Additionally, Finnan claims in the suit, the department secretary, Patricia White, was sexually harassing him “by thrusting her hips into him and sizing him up for when they get married.”
His complaint was filed with Human Resources Administrator Collette Graston. One employee, Dave Boyd, was “terminated shortly” after Finnan reported the misconduct, the suit says, but White was not counseled for her behavior.
In May 2018, the lawsuit says, Operations Director Daniel Anspach told Finnan “he would fire anyone from his group who joined the union. Finnan said he joined the union on June 6 and on June 12 Anspach “vilified” him “over a 2-hour period” for joining the union. Finnan reported Anspach’s action to then-City Manager Wayne Saunders the following day and on June 15, Finnan charges in the suit, he was “subjected to retaliation” by White and Anspach.
On June 18, the suit charges, “Anspach informed plaintiff [Finnan] that the only thing saving his job is ‘hard work.’”
On July 30, the lawsuit alleges, Finnan was “retaliated against and verbally abused” by Anspach after he notified Anspach, Saunders and Mike Clarke, director of the Public Works Department, of a “massive” oil spill caused by a city worker that was neither cleaned up or reported.
That same day, Finnan forwarded the report to the City Commission and code enforcement. He also reported Anspach’s alleged retaliation to Clark and Saunders by email.
On Aug. 1, Finnan was ordered to undergo a fitness for duty examination by a clinical psychologist. On Aug. 15, he was placed on leave with pay pending investigation of his complaints.
The suit charged that while Finnan was cleared by the psychologist to work he was never reinstated. On Nov. 2, Finnan was notified of his firing by email.
Finnan’s required psychological examination and his administrative leave constituted “efforts to silence the whistle,” the court action claims.
At the Jan. 22 St. Pete Beach commission meeting, the president of the local Communications Workers of America complained about “some strong anti-union, union busting behavior” from some people in the city’s management team.
At the same meeting, Finnan told commissioners about his alleged incidents of harassment and intimidation.
Replying to the commission, Saunders said, “We contacted our labor attorney and we immediately started a review with what he was concerned about and we are still continuing with that.”