Pharr settles four sexual harassment claims against city media director

Local News
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Pharr Media Director Gary Rodriguez. (Screenshot / city of Pharr via Vimeo.)

Pharr settled four sexual harassment claims Wednesday, cutting deals with employees who accused city Media Director Gary Rodriguez of touching them inappropriately and making lewd comments at work.

Four city employees — two supervisors at the Boggus Ford Events Center, the concession stand manager and a clerk — filed lawsuits against Rodriguez last year, when he managed the city-owned events center.

“There were two separate cases and we settled both of them,” said attorney Gustavo “Gus” Acevedo, who represented the employees.

Court records don’t provide any specifics about the settlements, including whether Rodriguez or the city admitted wrongdoing. City Attorney Patricia A. Rigney declined to comment.

Acevedo said the settlements included a monetary component, but declined to provide details.

“We feel they were fair,” Acevedo said.

Employees described a hostile work environment where Rodriguez sexually harassed subordinates and told lewd stories.

The most serious incident involved Box Office Supervisor Dahlia G. Ybarra, who accused Rodriguez of reaching underneath a table and squeezing her upper thigh. Another supervisor said he witnessed the incident.

Rodriguez, though, said he couldn’t remember what happened, according to the investigation conducted by city Human Resources Director Anali Alanis, who deemed the allegation “inconclusive.”

After she filed a lawsuit, Rodriguez denied touching Ybarra inappropriately.

Attorneys hired by Pharr filed copies of the city investigation, including the human resources director’s notes; 378 pages of deposition transcripts and exhibits, which detail the allegations; and other documents in court. The records reveal a wide range of allegations against Rodriguez.

Dahlia G. Ybarra

When she went to City Hall to deliver paperwork, Dahlia G. Ybarra knew Rodriguez would greet her with a hug.

“He would always make it a point to get up off his desk and come over to me and give me a hug,” Ybarra said, according to her deposition transcript. “And he would like reach over, and I would feel very uncomfortable.”

Ybarra said she started avoiding City Hall whenever possible. When she heard Rodriguez in the hallway, she walked the other way.

For roughly a year, Ybarra managed to avoid Rodriguez. Her plan fell apart in February 2016, when Community Events Director Rogelio “Roy” Garcia abruptly resigned.

Ybarra asked about the job, but Pharr had already hired a new director: Rodriguez.

They attended a team-building exercise with Layout Supervisor Felix De La Garza Jr. at City Hall on April 15, 2016.

During the event, Ybarra said Rodriguez reached under the table, grabbed her upper thigh and squeezed — twice, according to the deposition transcript.

“I just looked over at Felix, and Felix looked at me,” Ybarra said, according to the deposition transcript. “And he was like ‘He touched you, right?’ I said yes.”

Ybarra didn’t confront him.

“I just didn’t want there to be any problems with my work. He’s my director,” Ybarra said, according to the deposition transcript. “I didn’t want him to have something against me.”

Ybarra filed a complaint, which prompted the human resources director to question Rodriguez about what happened.

“Gary does not remember grabbing anyone’s thigh at the team building event that Finance and HR hosted,” according to the human resources director’s notes. “If he touched her at any point it was probably a reaction out of emotion of them winning but he cannot admit to the allegation because he does not recall touching her.”

After Ybarra filed the lawsuit, Rodriguez signed a strongly worded statement denying the allegation.

“I dispute that I ever assaulted Ms. Ybarra in any way shape or form,” according to an affidavit filed with the court. “I never touched her in any kind of provocative or offensive way nor touched her or came into physical contact with her in a way that I would ever reasonably believe she might consider offensive or provocative.”

Ybarra had another run-in with Rodriguez on April 25, 2016.

“I hope you don’t get offended when I stare at you, because I’m admiring you,” Rodriguez told Ybarra, according to her recollection of the conversation. “You’re a good looking woman.”

Asked about the conversation, Rodriguez said it never happened, according to the human resources director’s notes.

Veronica Limon

Veronica Limon, a clerk at the events center, also accused Rodriguez of touching her inappropriately.

On April 14, 2016, she worked a shift at the box office.

Rodriguez walked up behind her and briefly massaged her right shoulder, Limon said, according to the deposition transcript.

“I was not expecting him to touch me, so I felt stuck,” Limon said, adding that she felt shocked and thought to herself: “‘Why are you touching me? Don’t touch me.’”

Limon talked with her supervisor, Ybarra, and filed a complaint with the city. She didn’t confront Rodriguez.

The human resources director provided Limon with a recording device and asked her to tape conversations with Rodriguez, according to the deposition transcript. Limon said she only taped one conversation, which wasn’t incriminating.

Limon also accused Rodriguez of making lewd remarks and stroking her hair, according to the lawsuit.

During her deposition, though, Limon said she couldn’t recall any inappropriate remarks Rodriguez made. She also withdrew the allegation about Rodriguez stroking her hair.

“I conferred with my client, and apparently that incident did not occur,” said her attorney, according to the deposition transcript. “It was a mistake in our pleadings, and I will amend the petition accordingly to delete any allegations related to that incident.”

Felix De La Garza Jr.

It wasn’t just women who accused Rodriguez of inappropriate conduct.

Layout Supervisor Felix De La Garza Jr. accused Rodriguez of making lewd comments during April 2016.

When they drove to the public works department together, Rodriguez made vulgar comments about the receptionist, De La Garza said, according to the deposition transcript.

Asked by an attorney what, exactly, Rodriguez said during the conversation, De La Garza replied: “That the front receptionist had a big rack and ‘I can only imagine what I could do to them.’”

A few days later, De La Garza and Rodriguez went to the city golf course.

De La Garza said Rodriguez started telling him — in graphic detail — about having sex with an ex-girlfriend.

“I didn’t want to hear it,” De La Garza said, according to the deposition transcript. “I mean, it just totally changed from a friendly conversation to him engaging in a sexual act with a previous ex-girlfriend from years ago (sic) that he was teasing her with his penis.”

De La Garza said the conversation made him extremely uncomfortable, but he didn’t confront Rodriguez about the lewd story.

Asked whether or not he’d ever “been inappropriate” with employees, Rodriguez admitted telling a story to De La Garza.

“Gary mentioned that he did tell a story to Felix about being in bed and that is the only think (sic) he thinks that could have made Felix uncomfortable,” according to notes taken by the human resources director.

Anthony R. Alvarado

Concession Stand Manager Anthony R. Alvarado said Rodriguez told him a similar story.

“You know, he kind of went into detail about what happened that night with him and his girlfriend,” Alvarado said, according to the deposition transcript. “I was like ‘I really don’t want to know.’”

Alvarado also recalled Rodriguez making inappropriate comments in March 2016, when they drove from Pharr to Hidalgo together.

During the trip, Rodriguez made a comment about wanting to “knock the dust of (sic) a girl’s ass,” according to the complaint Alvarado filed with the Texas Workforce Commission.

The conversation made Alvarado uncomfortable, but he didn’t tell Rodriguez to stop talking.

About two weeks later, Alvarado said Rodriguez made a similar comment about the city attorney.

“On March 22, 2016, while on their way to meet with the Pharr City Attorney, Gary Rodriguez mentioned to Mr. Alvarado that he was attracted to her and that he ‘wouldn’t mind knocking the dust off of that,’” according to a written statement Alvarado submitted during the lawsuit.

The city investigation didn’t address Alvarado’s sexual harassment claims, which apparently didn’t emerge until July 2016 — two months after the human resources director completed her report.

After they filed a lawsuit, Rodriguez flatly denied that he sexually harassed Limon, De La Garza or Alvarado.

“I dispute that I have ever sexually harassed any of these three employees in any fashion,” Rodriguez said, according to an affidavit filed with the court. “Regardless, at no time have any of these employees ever told me that they consider anything I have said or done to be offensive or harassing and they have never told me to stop doing or saying anything to them or in front of them.”

The city investigation focused on Alvarado’s other complaints, including that Rodriguez called him a “retard” and created a poor work environment.

Rodriguez admitted calling Alvarado a retard, but said he didn’t mean it literally, according to the human resources director’s notes from the conversation.

Three Day Suspension

After interviewing the employees, Human Resources Director Anali Alanis prepared a report for City Manager Juan Guerra.

“Mr. Rodriguez’ behavior towards his staff lacks professionalism, respect, ethics and it is not in line with the behavior expected of a City of Pharr Department Director,” according to the report.

Pharr suspended Rodriguez for three days without pay and required him to attend sexual harassment training “as a precautionary measure.”

Rodriguez currently works at City Hall, where he conducts interviews for the Pharr television channel and emcees city events. He declined to comment on the sexual harassment allegations.

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