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Arroyo responds to harassment claim

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Arroyo responds to harassment claim
Felix G. Arroyo

Yawu Miller

In August, Felix G. Arroyo was fired from his job as chief of Health and Human Services after an investigation of allegations by an employee in his office that Arroyo sexually harassed her and that Arroyo, his chief of staff and Mayor Martin Walsh retaliated by demoting her after she made public her allegations.

Last week, Arroyo fired back with a response to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint filed by the employee, Hilani Morales, stating she had made up the allegations against him, and presented three different versions of her story. He presented evidence in the form of text messages and office communications that he said contradict the allegations.

Morales, whom Arroyo hired in October 2015 as a policy director, complained to the city’s human resources department in July 2017, launching an investigation into Arroyo’s conduct. On July 28, Arroyo was placed on paid administrative leave.

While the human resources department has not made Morales’ complaint public, Arroyo’s attorneys say he was interviewed Aug. 16 and provided “exculpatory evidence” to the investigator.

“The complaint filed against Mr. Arroyo is baseless and defamatory,” attorney Isaac Peres said in a statement sent to the Banner. “Every piece of Mr. Arroyo’s response to MCAD is corroborated with over two hundred pages evidence that was submitted that includes messages between Ms. Morales and Mr. Arroyo, Ms. Morales and her co-workers and witness testimony which will prove that the allegations made against Mr. Arroyo are completely false. Mr. Arroyo is looking forward to cooperating fully with the MCAD and clearing his name.”

Morales did not return a phone call from the Banner.

After an investigator hired by the city made Morales aware of some or all of the evidence submitted by Arroyo in July, Peres says in the MCAD filing, Morales filed her complaint with the MCAD and gave the Boston Globe a copy of complaint. In her MCAD complaint, Morales claims Arroyo slapped her buttocks repeatedly from the time she was hired in 2015 until she filed her complaint, and that he grabbed her by the back of the neck and threatened her when she told him she was meeting with human resources.

In response to the MCAD complaint, Arroyo submitted text messages sent in 2016 and 2017 that he said contradict Morales’ assertion that he harassed her. In three messages sent in January and February of this year, Morales offered Arroyo rides to the HHS City Hall office. In his responses, he declined each offer. In another message, she wishes him a happy Valentine’s Day. In a message sent January 24, she suggests the two meet one-on-one to talk about his divorce.

After she filed a complaint with human resources, Arroyo alleges, Morales sent messages to a former HHS co-worker alleging Arroyo harassed other women in the office and urging her to come forward with a complaint. The co-worker later shared the messages with Arroyo.

“6 possibly 7 victims have come forward as of today” reads an Aug. 2 message by Morales. “This is re-traumatizing for all of us.”

(City officials confirmed to the Boston Herald that there was only one complainant.)

“Darling, why didn’t you ask Felix for a transfer out? I am only asking so i can help if necessary down the road.” the former co-worker responded.

“I did, for months But he refused to let me go He wanted to sleep with me,” Morales replied.

While Morales’ MCAD complaint alleges she was transferred against her will, the text messages between Morales and Arroyo suggest she made more than one attempt to transfer out of the office, and that Arroyo offered her support in finding a new job.

On June 14, Morales sent messages complaining about Arroyo’s chief of staff, Ilyitch Nahiely Tabora, and refers to attempts to leave the office.

“Your Chief of Staff will force me to go to Human Resources if she doesn’t stop,” she writes. “I’ve put you in notice about her unacceptable behavior. We all know I’m looking for opportunities elsewhere, let’s make the best of what time I have left with the team.”

In a subsequent message, Morales asks Arroyo to be supportive of her candidacy for an associate director job in the city’s Office of Health Equity.

“Feel free to tell them I am supportive,” Arroyo responds.

“The allegations regarding Mr. Arroyo’s refusal to transfer her are wholly disproven by messages between Mr. Arroyo and Ms. Morales,” Arroyo’s attorneys write in the MCAD filing, “where Mr. Arroyo states his support of her application to other positions; tells her to use him as a reference; and connects her with a contact that had an open position.”

Morales’ MCAD complaint is filed against the City of Boston, Arroyo and Mayor Martin Walsh and alleges she was discriminated against on the bases of national origin, religion, sex, race, color and retaliation. She claims Arroyo and Tabora made defamatory statements about her hair style, her atheism and her status as a Dominican.

The complaint indicates that Walsh is ultimately responsible for her transfer from HHS to a job as special assistant to the director of the Public Facilities Department, that it is a demotion and that it could not have occurred with Walsh’s approval.

Arroyo presented as evidence he has not discriminated against staff the fact that he has hired people of color and women to fill most positions in his office. He cites another atheist on HHS staff willing to testify on his behalf, and other staff members who he says will testify that Morales herself made disparaging comments about Dominicans, not Arroyo.

Arroyo was fired on Aug. 24. Walsh’s spokeswoman Laura Oggeri would not disclose the reason, but said in a statement there had been a “comprehensive internal investigation.”

Arroyo was the highest-ranking person of Latino heritage working in city government before he was fired. He’s not the first Walsh administration official to face allegations of misconduct. Walsh’s tourism chief, Kenneth Brissette and head of intergovernmental affairs, Timothy Sullivan, are under federal investigation, facing extortion charges in connection with allegations they withheld city permits for a music festival until organizers hired union stagehands.

Neither Sullivan nor Brissette were fired, however, and both have been on paid administrative leave since 2016.

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