Harassment allegations against Florida’s Chief Financial Regulator disputed

Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (News Service of Florida) – An attorney for the state’s suspended top financial regulator argues in a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet that an inspector general report fails to back up sexual-harassment allegations leveled at the regulator.

Attorney Mike Tein used the letter to argue that suspended Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin should be reinstated to his $166,000-a-year job, rather than fired. DeSantis and the Cabinet are expected to take up the issue during a meeting Thursday in the Capitol.

Tein contends that findings by Office of Financial Regulation Inspector General Bradley Perry don’t support claims that Rubin created “an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment.”

“A close reading shows that Commissioner Rubin’s conduct did not remotely warrant the public criticism previously leveled at him and certainly cannot justify his dismissal,” Tein, of Miami, wrote in the letter.

Tein maintained that state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who has been pushing for Rubin’s termination, should recuse himself from the issue during the Cabinet meeting, as Patronis is now the subject of complaints to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and has “publicly prejudged the outcome before the investigation was complete.”

Patronis spokeswoman Katie Strickland said in an email Wednesday that Patronis will “absolutely not” recuse himself.

“Mr. Rubin’s claims are patently false and outrageous,” Strickland said.

Patronis has asked DeSantis and the other Cabinet members — Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — to also consider an interim leader for the Office of Financial Regulation and to establish a process to find a replacement for Rubin.

Last week, Patronis wrote that, “If Cabinet does not act on July 25, Mr. Rubin will continue to collect a $13,000 a month salary and the complainants who came forward will remain open to the fear that he may someday return to office.”

The governor’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Wednesday. DeSantis and the Cabinet members jointly oversee the Office of Financial Regulation.

Patronis has been the most vocal advocate of replacing Rubin, who was hired in February.

The controversy emerged in May, when Patronis suspended Rubin and released a complaint alleging that Rubin sexually harassed an employee.

In the complaint, the unidentified employee said Rubin took her to lunch on April 30 and brought her to his nearby downtown condo to see recent renovations. Inside, Rubin told the employee to remove her shoes so as not to track dust inside. Rubin also removed his shoes before they viewed the condo.

The complaint said that after the lunch, the employee started to avoid Rubin and was moved to a different job after inquiring if there were other positions available, as the situation was “awkward” and “uncomfortable.”

Rubin has disputed the allegations and fought back publicly against Patronis. In part, he has accused Patronis of “pay to play — or else” politics that included demands for a $1 million political contribution from Rubin’s father, who is a wealthy developer, for the February hiring.

Also, state law enforcement was asked to investigate Patronis’ release of a redacted version of the confidential harassment complaint lodged against Rubin. The complaint was filed and released to the media the same day Patronis suspended Rubin.

Tien said he’s been given five minutes to address the Cabinet on Thursday. He said Rubin will not attend the meeting.

Perry, the inspector general, in an executive summary of his findings released July 17 said Rubin violated department policy prohibiting misconduct.

What was described as a “proof analysis,” released Friday by the Office of Financial Regulation, provided background to Perry’s executive summary. The analysis provided comments from other people who have worked under Rubin and non-employees who made complaints against him — allegations that Rubin denies or says were taken out of context.

Among the allegations were that Rubin made female employees embarrassed and uncomfortable with his language about dating, clothes, weight and breasts. In one case, Rubin was also accused of saying there were “too many rednecks” in Tallahassee. Rubin told Perry he possibly used the term, “but only during a conversation about Senator Marco Rubio’s campaign manager,” not in reference to people in Tallahassee.

Tein said most of the allegations came in after Patronis released the initial complaint and a request was made for others to come forward.

Tein also said Rubin has been working to improve his management skills

“He accepts that, despite the best of intentions, he made some people uncomfortable,” Tein wrote. “And he has sincerely apologized. He has taken supplemental training on management and sexual harassment to ensure this won’t happen again.”

Tein added that the Cabinet can censure Rubin, but “in doing so, you should use the same yardstick to judge misconduct by other Florida officials.”

Rubin is seeking to put off any action on Thursday, as he has claimed whistleblower protection with the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

Rubin has also filed suit in Miami-Dade County circuit court against Tallahassee lobbyist Paul Mitchell, considered a strong ally of Patronis. The lawsuit alleges conspiracy and defamation.

The lawsuit, highlighting text messages, claims Rubin’s father, a wealthy developer, repeatedly refused pressure to make a $1 million political donation for his son’s hiring.

It also contends that Patronis and his inner circle, which includes Mitchell, employ public humiliation and defamatory allegations to replace outsiders who “might expose their unlawful activities.”  Mitchell has described Rubin’s account of events as “largely fictional” and “self-serving.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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