Uproar in New Orleans|Juvenile Court

      NEW ORLEANS (CN) – A former manager of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court says she was sexually harassed by a former judge, emotionally abused by six other judges, all of whom are still seated, and wrongfully fired. She claims that “in at least one instance, former [Chief] Judge [David] Bell proposed to condition Ms. Griffith’s pay raise upon exchange of a sexual favor.”

     In a 69-page federal complaint, Tammy Griffith, the court’s former assistant fiscal manager, says she was “repeatedly subjected to unwelcomed sexual advances by former Chief Judge David Bell over a three and a half year period, and, in at least one instance, former Judge Bell proposed to condition Ms. Griffith’s pay raise upon exchange of a sexual favor.”
     Things got more complicated when Judge Bell went on leave and his successor, Judge Ernestine Gray, found out about the sexual harassment and asked Griffith to “to comply with Judge Gray’s efforts to remove Judge Bell from the bench,” according to the complaint.
     Griffith says she told Judge Gray she did not want to go on record with a sexual harassment claim, “because she feared losing her job and risking her safety.”
     Griffith says: “From the moment Ms. Griffith expressed her unwillingness to comply with Judge Gray’s opportunistic and self-serving interest in having Judge Bell removed from the bench, Ms. Griffith became the target of Judge Gray’s willful and intentional retaliatory behavior.”
     Griffith says the other judges knew of Gray’s retaliation and did nothing.
     Bell resigned from his post in June 2010 amid allegations he had sexually harassed several court employees.
     According to Griffith’s lawsuit, the allegations that led to Bell’s resignation were filed in a public complaint by Judge Gray, and named Griffith, after Griffith had told Judge Gray she feared for her job and safety and did not want to go public.
     In one instance of sexual harassment by Judge Bell, Griffith says, the judge told her he wanted “‘to get with her.'”
     According to the complaint: “Ms. Griffith informed Judge Bell that she ‘didn’t shit where [she ate]’ and doesn’t ‘fool around with married men.'” (Brackets in complaint.)
     That very day, Griffith says, Judge Bell came to her office and left his divorce papers face down on her desk.
     The complaint continues: “Shocked by his actions, Ms. Griffith showed the documents to another employee, who was present when Judge Bell set the papers on her desk face down.
     “The next day, Judge Bell again appeared in Ms. Griffith’s office and asked her what was she going to do. She responded, ‘those papers were not signed and, regardless, I am not interested in “getting with you in that way”.'”
     On another occasion, Griffith says, after Bell promised, but did not grant her a raise, he “called Ms. Griffith to his courtroom, stating that he needed to discuss some things with her. She arrived to discover that he was on the bench and court was in session. He held a large file folder up to his face so that others could not see or hear what he was telling her. He instructed her to pay a vendor that he had forgotten to submit an invoice for; afterwards he stated that he received word from the city regarding her raise. He said it was up to him to decide which amount to give her. He showed her an email on his blackberry, which stated that he could pay Ms. Guichard and her $60,000 or $70,000 per year. He then stated that for him to choose the higher amount, she would have to ‘go upstairs and take off [her] skirt.'” (Brackets in complaint.)
     In yet another instance, Griffith claims, when an employee went over her head to stop her from reprimanding a subordinate who had failed to perform as expected, “Judge Bell passed by Ms. Griffith’s office and told her: ‘The real problem is that you need to get fucked.'”
     Griffith also named as defendants Louisiana, the City of New Orleans, six current juvenile judges and the court’s judicial administrator.
     Griffith claims that all the other defendant-judges knew what was happening to her.
     Judge Bell took an extended leave of absence in January 2010 and Ernestine Gray was elected Chief Judge, according to the complaint.
     Griffith claims that in March 2010 Judge Gray asked her if “Judge Bell had ever made inappropriate sexual comments to her. Ms. Griffith replied, ‘Yes, all the time.’ Judge Gray asked Ms. Griffith if she would be willing to go on record with a complaint about his sexual advances. Ms. Griffith said she would not go on record with a complaint because she was afraid of the consequences. She stated: ‘I have heard from several people that [Judge Bell] knows a lot of unsavory characters. He defends drug dealers and murderers and it would be dangerous for me to publicly accuse him of sexual harassment. Furthermore, I don’t want to lose my job.'” (Brackets in complaint.)
     When Judge Gray pressed her, Griffith says, “Ms. Griffith responded: ‘Judge Gray: I am a single parent. I don’t want to get involved in something that could harm me or my child; and I need my job.'”
     Griffith claims that “from the moment Ms. Griffith expressed her unwillingness to comply with Judge Gray’s opportunistic and self-serving interest in having Judge Bell removed from the bench, Ms. Griffith became the target of Judge Gray’s willful and intentional retaliatory behavior.”
     Gray later filed a complaint about Bell with the judiciary commission, claiming Bell had sexually harassed Griffith and several other court employees.
     The commission’s report quoted Griffith saying, “I’m afraid of him. I mean, I’m not going to lie, but I am … how will I be protected if I say these things against this man? What if he finds out, what’s going to happen to me, you know?” according to a Wednesday story in the Times-Picayune newspaper.
     According to Griffith’s complaint: “In June 2010, an anonymous email appeared in the inboxes of the OPJC [Orleans Parish Juvenile Court] staff. The email was sent via the OPJC site. Among other things, the email alleged that Ms. Griffith had destroyed Judge Bell and that she would destroy others to keep her job.”
     Griffith says she told judicial administrator Pernell Denet “how upset and worried she was for her safety and asked what was going to be done about the e-mail. No investigatory or remedial action was taken by OPJC.”
     Griffith claims that the “clear custom” of the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court “can be delineated in at least these three ways: First, allegations of a hostile work environment, or improprieties among judicial administrators, are not investigated by OPJC or city administrators.
     “Second: sitting judges know that OPJC employees are being abused but are taking no actions within their administrative authority to do anything about the abuse and are advising abused employees that the only recourse available to them is to quit.
     “Third: employees who do not quit and who file complaints with EEOC are retaliated against by being subjected to yet more hostile environments and/or termination.”
     Griffith seeks more than $75,000 in damages for “extreme mental anguish and emotional distress” from Bell’s sexual harassment, and “as a result of former Judge Bell’s, Chief Judge Gray’s, and Ms. Denet’s intentional infliction of emotional distress,” for wrongful termination.
     She is represented by Nghana Gauff of LaPlace, La.

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