Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

City settles for $350K with woman who claims supervisors knew for years her harasser was a problem

At least three other women have in some way accused him of sexual misconduct.

The city said it will settle a lawsuit for $350,000 with a woman who claimed she was sexually harassed by a coworker in the Voter Registration Office.
The city said it will settle a lawsuit for $350,000 with a woman who claimed she was sexually harassed by a coworker in the Voter Registration Office.Read more / File Photograph

The City of Philadelphia will pay $350,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who was sexually harassed in April 2016 by a man she said supervisors were told was a problem employee more than seven years earlier.

The woman, an employee in the voter registration division of the Office of the City Commissioners, filed suit in 2017, naming the city and the man she said exposed himself to her, Francisco Martinez, as defendants. She also claimed in the lawsuit that City Commissioner Anthony Clark and Voter Registration Administrator Gregory Irving knew of Martinez’s behavior and didn’t do enough to stop it.

City spokesperson Deana Gamble said that, in settling the matter this month with the employee, Sherron Bell, the city has not admitted to any wrongdoing or liability. At least three other women have in some way accused Martinez of sexual misconduct. Earlier this year, the city settled with one of those women for $32,500 after she claimed Martinez harassed and groped her, behavior she said began shortly after she was hired in 2004.

Deputy City Commissioner Nick Custodio said Monday that after the office received a complaint involving Bell and Martinez in 2016, the matter was reported to police. After that, Martinez “was separated from the victim” while the case was investigated. Martinez was arrested and found guilty of indecent exposure in the summer of 2016, and was ultimately fired Oct. 20 of that year.

Martinez, whose lawyer didn’t respond to a request for comment, is now awaiting a retrial granted on appeal.

The city has paid well over $2 million over the last five years to settle sexual misconduct claims, according to a calculation included in a report this summer by City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. The city this year revamped its sexual harassment procedures, including improving how complaints are tracked and investigated. Custodio said Democrat Lisa Deeley, chair of the City Commissioners, has adopted this new sexual harassment policy and is requiring all supervisors to have sexual harassment training.

Bell, who began working for the city in 1998, said Martinez in April 2016 lured her into a copy room, exposed himself to her, and demanded she touch him. According to the suit, Martinez had been walking around in the office earlier with his zipper open and admitted to masturbating in the office.

She complained to higher-ups about two weeks later, according to findings by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC issued a ruling in March 2017 indicating there was “reasonable cause” to believe Bell was subjected to workplace sexual harassment in violation of Title VII, the federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, and religion.

Bell’s lawyer, Isaac Green, declined to comment on the specifics of the case or the terms of the settlement, saying only: “We are aware based on what we’ve been able to determine in discovery that the scale of the problem is pretty large."

According to an amended complaint filed by Bell in November — which was not agreed to as part of the settlement — another female employee told Philadelphia police in 2009 that Martinez exposed himself to her at work. That disclosure, along with at least two others involving Martinez that were reported to police, was forwarded to a city human resources manager, according to the lawsuit. The city would not confirm whether a formal complaint followed, citing confidential personnel matters.

Bell also said in the amended complaint that she has faced retaliation since reporting the mistreatment, including being denied a request to transfer out of the department and receiving what she said was her first unsatisfactory mark for “work relationships” in a performance evaluation this summer. She also claimed Irving denied her request for voluntary overtime in 2016, telling her “'Mr. Martinez would like to work overtime, too, but neither of you will work overtime; innocent until proven guilty,'” according to the suit.

The settlement includes a six-month leave of absence for Bell and a transfer to a new city position, Gamble said.

Neither Clark nor Irving responded to requests for comment.