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City employee files sexual harassment complaint against Felix G. Arroyo

Felix G. Arroyo.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff, file

A woman who worked for Felix G. Arroyo, the city’s chief of health and human services, has accused him of repeated sexual harassment, alleging in a discrimination complaint that he “spanked” her buttocks, made inappropriate sexual comments, and grabbed her by the back of her neck when he learned she was planning to formally complain about his behavior to city officials.

In the complaint, the Boston woman, who worked in Arroyo’s department, alleged that he created a hostile work environment and that, after she complained to city officials, she was moved to a different department, which she considered a demotion.

Arroyo, through his spokeswoman, rejected the allegations, calling them baseless. The woman filed the complaint Thursday with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.


Reached Monday, an official with the commission said he could not verify the complaint until “all parties have been served.”

Arroyo, a member of one of the most prominent political families in Boston, was placed on paid administrative leave July 28 and the city began an internal investigation. So far, there have been no public findings in that inquiry or in the complaint sent to MCAD.

As of Tuesday, his spokeswoman said, Arroyo had not been served by MCAD.

“These allegations are intolerable and disturbing,’’ the city’s communications chief, Laura Oggeri, said in a statement responding to a Globe inquiry about the allegations. “We take the safety and well-being of our employees very seriously and we are working to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”

The woman provided the Globe a copy of the complaint. The Globe generally does not name victims or alleged victims in certain types of cases.

In the complaint, she named Mayor Martin J. Walsh — who is seeking reelection — the City of Boston, and Arroyo — a former Boston mayoral contender and two-term city councilor. It alleges sexual harassment, retaliation on the basis of her sex and gender, and a hostile workplace.


She also named Arroyo’s chief of staff, Ilyitch Nahiely Tabora, in the complaint. Tabora declined to comment, saying she is not authorized by the city to speak on the matter.

Colette Phillips, a Boston public relations executive who is acting as Arroyo’s spokeswoman, said the health services chief met with the city’s investigators for three hours Wednesday and “gave his testimony, along with evidence that proved these allegations to be baseless.”

She said Arroyo has “reason to believe” that the complainant knew of his testimony when she went to the discrimination commission Thursday “as an act of retaliation.” She did not specify how Arroyo came to such a conclusion.

“Chief Arroyo is adamant that these allegations are baseless and retaliatory,’’ Phillips wrote, adding: “We ask there not be a rush to judgment until all the facts are presented and the city and MCAD have completed their investigation.”

According to the complaining document, the woman said she was hired in October 2015 in the mayor’s Office of Health and Human Services. Arroyo, a 38-year-old Jamaica Plain resident, was her supervisor.

“Since the beginning of my employment, Mr. Arroyo sexually harassed me,’’ the woman said in the document, adding that she did not always tell him to stop the harassment “because he was my boss.”

The woman contended that Arroyo made sexually inappropriate comments to her. He also said: “I like that tight dress you’re wearing.”


“He also grabbed my bottom on several occasions and spanked it frequently,’’ the complaint alleged.

She said if she said nothing to Arroyo, the conduct continued daily. If she did ask him to stop speaking “inappropriately and touching’’ her, she said, the behavior stopped and most communications ceased for two to three months at a time.

The woman said Arroyo most recently resumed the inappropriate behavior on July 24, and she decided that she could no longer tolerate the conduct. She said she contacted the city’s human resources department to set up a meeting to discuss the matter. An official in human resources put the meeting on her calendar, which both Arroyo and Tabora can access, the complaint said.

About half an hour after the meeting appeared on her calendar, the woman said, Arroyo called her into his office. “He said things like ‘you wouldn’t want to hurt me because you wouldn’t want me to hurt you, right?’ ” the document said.

He also said: “I thought we settled this,’’ a reference — the woman said — to her previous complaints to him about the hostile work environment he was creating.

The woman said she got up to leave Arroyo’s office, but he stood “uncomfortably close to her.” As she turned to leave, “he grabbed the back of my neck and squeezed it very hard,’’ the document said.

She said she met with a human resources official on or about July 25 and complained about Arroyo’s behavior, specifically about the alleged sexual harassment, hostile workplace, and retaliation, she wrote.


The complainant also met with the city’s chief of staff, Daniel Koh, on July 26, according to an e-mail that the woman sent to Koh and that was reviewed by the Globe.

In the e-mail to Koh, dated July 27, the woman summarized the meeting she had with Koh the previous day, noting that he told her he had spoken with the city’s human resources director, Vivian Leonard, and that Leonard told him “everything about the allegations I made against Felix G. Arroyo,’’ the woman wrote in the e-mail.

The woman’s e-mail described Koh as “very troubled by the allegations against Felix.’’ He promised to get to the bottom of the matter.

“You also asked me to immediately contact you and HR if Felix Arroyo threatens me again or if I felt unsafe in the workplace,’’ the woman wrote to Koh.

Arroyo was suspended the following day. Some members of his staff told the Globe that city officials informed them that he would not be returning to his post for a “significant amount of time.”

During her meeting with human resources, the woman also complained that Tabora, Arroyo’s chief of staff, made her work “extremely uncomfortably, presumably at his direction” during the times when Arroyo ceased communication with the complainant.

The woman said Tabora would do things like give her unreasonable deadlines, monitor how long she took to go to the restroom, and assign her projects that led to nowhere.


The woman said that Leonard informed her on or about July 28 that she should report to the Public Facilities Department the following week and that she would no longer be in the health services department, according to the complaint.

“She told me the move was permanent and that my pay would not change,’’ the woman said.

The woman said she considered the move to be a demotion and would not have occurred without the mayor’s approval.

“For these reasons I felt that I have been subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination,’’ the woman said. “I also suffered retaliation after complaining.”

A spokeswoman for the city said the woman requested to be moved to a different department due to the investigation.​

Arroyo, who is in the middle of divorce proceedings, was first appointed Jan. 26, 2014, to the $130,000-a-year job as health services chief. He oversees seven departments that serve the city’s most vulnerable populations, including Veterans Affairs, the Public Health Commission, and Elderly Services.

The appointment was seen in some city circles as payback for Arroyo, who helped deliver key communities of color to Walsh during the 2013 mayoral campaign against former councilor John Connolly. Arroyo got nearly 9 percent of the preliminary vote in that race.

Arroyo, a former organizer and union political director, served as an at-large member of the City Council for two years. He is the son of Felix D. Arroyo, a longtime community activist who became the first Latino on the City Council and the School Committee.

The elder Arroyo was put on paid administrative leave in February from his job as Suffolk Register of Probate, but was given permission to return to the position in early October. That office has been plagued with managerial trouble that predates Felix D. Arroyo, who has maintained that he inherited much of the dysfunction.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.