All three elected members of the Board of Estimates today expressed surprise and dismay that a city employee, twice before investigated for sexual harassment, managed to retain his job, leading to a third harassment complaint that will cost the city $225,000 to settle.
“Do you think this was avoidable?” City Council President Nick Mosby wondered, while Comptroller Bill Henry asked “if there was one defined place” where the public and city workers could report suspected harassment?
To both questions, Deputy City Solicitor Stephen Salsbury answered “no.”
The Brew yesterday reported on Gary H. Smith, a former Community Action Partnership (CAP) employee, who reportedly harassed women who came to his office to receive rental, energy and other emergency assistance.
In the two prior incidents, Salsbury said, “the survivor or victim [didn’t] want to participate in the investigations for understandable reasons. Without that participation, it can be very difficult to substantiate findings.”
On the heels of this explanation, Mayor Brandon Scott announced that he had tasked Quinton Herbert, director of human resources, “to look at our sexual assault policies about any updates to the policies we need to make.”
Later at a press availability, Scott said, “We know what happens when we are talking about sexual assault. Someone who is victimized often doesn’t want to step up and go through that trauma again.”
The solution, the mayor continued, is “to make sure that everybody knows that if you see something like this, you should be letting people know. It’s also up to supervisors to hold people accountable.”
Going Back a Decade
The city first looked at allegations of sexual harassment by Gary H. Smith (whose name was redacted by the city, but was found in court records by The Brew and confirmed today) more than a decade ago.
Smith was accused in 2009 of sexually harassing a client while employed at a Community Action Partnership (CAP) assistance center. He was terminated by the city, but the decision was overturned when the victim dropped criminal charges.
In 2016, Smith was again accused of sexual harassment, this time aimed at a custodian.
An internal investigation by HR ended after the custodian refused to cooperate, and other than asking Smith to undergo training, no other disciplinary action was taken, Salsbury said.
The latest victim, Shanae Watkins, filed a lawsuit against the city in July 2021, three years after she alleged that Wilson took her into his “dimly lit” office to review the paperwork she had filled out for an energy assistance grant.
“Smith began to question her about her diet and asked her to stand up and turn around so that he could inspect her weight-loss progress, at which point he struck her on her buttocks and stated ‘your butt is getting smaller,’” the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court charged.
Smith continued his “outrageous behavior,” including demands that she sleep with him, even after a fellow worker entered the office and the two “joked and laughed together while Ms. Watkins remained seated,” according to the lawsuit.
Smith finally dismissed her by saying “she would not get much financial assistance for her energy bill.”
City Fought Back
Watkins said she reported the incident to two CAP supervisors and to Baltimore Police, but nothing came of her complaint.
She also recounted her experience on Facebook and heard back from other women who said they had experienced similar harassment by Smith at the same CAP office.
After her lawsuit was filed in 2021, city attorneys fought back. They claimed they knew little about the harassment charges, even though Salsbury said today that HR had investigated the charges in 2018.
The city further denied knowledge of any specific harassment on Smith’s part and said that, while it learned of allegations against Smith on Facebook, “it lacks sufficient information to admit or deny the allegations.”
City attorneys claimed they knew little about previous harassment allegations, but today acknowledged that HR had investigated them.
As the case approached a trial date, settlement talks began. They were concluded in September, with the plaintiff agreeing to drop the lawsuit for the $225,000 payout.
Before the BOE today approved the settlement, Mosby asked, “How do we assure that this kind of behavior by a city employees is not allowed to persist?”
Salsbury replied, “I think it’s important to note that each time there were allegations, the city did conduct a full investigation. Of course, something happens years later, and you’re going to look at it and say, ‘I wish we would have.’ But there are important protections in place for civil service employees.”
Henry then asked, “Would this be a sufficient reason for us to try to improve the policies we have in place for allowing the general public and for co-workers to report any type of suspected concerns?”
Such concerns should be reported to a supervisor, Salsbury said, explaining that signage to that effect was posted at the Bank Street office where Smith worked.
Hired in January 2004, Smith resigned from his $56,000-a-year post sometime in 2019.
Apparently moving out of state, his current whereabouts are unknown and the city was unable to depose him, according to Salsbury.