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Arroyo calls harassment charges an effort to damage his reputation

 Felix G. Arroyo, as seen in April.
Felix G. Arroyo, as seen in April.John Blanding/globe staff/file

Felix G. Arroyo, the city’s former health services chief, is defiantly rejecting allegations that he sexually harassed a woman under his supervision, saying that he never created a hostile work environment and did not grab the woman by the back of her neck, as she asserted.

Arroyo was fired by Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration Aug. 24 after the woman accused him of sexual harassment. In a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination on Aug. 17, she accused Arroyo of repeatedly harassing her in the two years she worked in his office, including spanking her buttocks and making inappropriate comments — allegations Arroyo wholly denies.

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Arroyo’s response came in a written statement to the commission last week that was obtained by the Globe. The document included copies of text messages and other correspondence between Arroyo, the woman, and members of his former staff that Arroyo said support his defense. It was his first extensive comment on the matter.

Arroyo, who is a former mayoral candidate and city councilor, and his accuser both declined interview requests from the Globe.

Laura Oggeri, the city’s communications chief, said Arroyo, who was an employee at will, was terminated after a comprehensive investigation that concluded Aug. 23. The city hired an outside counsel, Kay Hodge, to conduct the investigation.

In his response to the commission, Arroyo said that the woman gave three different versions of her allegations and that her intent was to damage his public image.

“The investigation in this case will also reveal that [the accuser’s] allegations are motivated primarily by a desire to destroy Mr. Arroyo’s reputation (Mr. Arroyo is a public figure) and cause him to lose his job,’’ the document said.

The commission, which confirmed the woman’s initial complaint, said it cannot disclose any other aspects of the investigation, including whether Arroyo filed a response. Her complaint also named Walsh and the City of Boston.

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The Arroyo document said the woman’s claims were uncorroborated and baseless. It said some of Arroyo’s former staffers are willing to testify about his professionalism and efforts to mentor and support women and staff of color. One eyewitness, he said, can confirm that Arroyo did not grab the woman by the neck in his office, as she alleged.

The Globe generally does not name victims or alleged victims in certain types of cases.

In his filing, Arroyo sought to challenge the credibility of his accuser. As one example, Arroyo said he provided his evidence to the outside counsel, including copies of text messages and other messaging from the woman.

He said his evidence was shared with the accuser, who promptly filed the MCAD complaint and later contacted the Globe. Arroyo, in the filing, said he believed her actions demonstrated that she was trying to retaliate against him after she saw his evidence.

Arroyo said the woman gave three versions of events: one to the city human resources office, one to a co-worker, and one to the MCAD.

And he suggested that her actions, in combination with the various accounts, “demonstrate that her allegations are retaliatory, driven by her goal of ensuring that Mr. Arroyo would lose his job and have irreparable harm done to his public reputation.”

Arroyo also disputed the woman’s assertion that he was the woman’s direct supervisor. He said she reported directly to Arroyo’s former chief of staff.

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Arroyo also rebutted allegations from the woman that he made disparaging comments about her hair, religion, and heritage. He contended that eight of the nine employees he directly supervised or helped to hire as health services chief — including department heads — were people of color; seven were women.

He said the hiring is a reflection of the value he places on promoting and supporting a diverse workforce.

“None have ever alleged discrimination based on their race, color, or origin,” the document said. According to Arroyo’s detailed response, his accuser complained to him about the treatment she received from the chief of staff. But, he said, whenever he asked, she was unable to provide an example of the mistreatment.

In one meeting, the document said, the woman “accepted” that she overreacted and said she was “insubordinate.”

On July 18, the document said, the woman requested a meeting with Arroyo to discuss a summer jobs project. Arroyo said the meeting was postponed because she needed to do more work on the project in order for the meeting to take place. When the woman was informed via e-mail that she had not done the required work, she contacted human resources “in an act of retaliation,’’ the document said.

Arroyo was put on paid leave July 27.

Arroyo maintained that he never received a copy of the allegations the woman provided to the city, and he was only able to determine her claims based on questions from the outside counsel during their interview.

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During Arroyo’s suspension, the woman exchanged text messages with a co-worker, Arroyo said.

In those exchanges, according to the document, the woman said that Arroyo had refused to allow her to transfer out of the department and that he “wanted to sleep with her.”

That information did not appear in the woman’s MCAD complaint, Arroyo contends.

Rejecting those allegations, Arroyo provided copies of text messages showing that he had supported the woman when she applied for other city government positions; urged her to use him as a reference; and connected her with someone he knew in the city who had an open position, the document said.

The woman at one point told the co-worker there were “five ‘victims’ of Arroyo” and, at another, said there were six or seven women who complained to the city.

Arroyo said none of that was true, noting a news article in which the mayor said there was one complainant.

In one text message in the document, the woman told a co-worker she needed “witnesses and/or victims to the harassment and hostile work environment. Otherwise Felix will villainize me to the media. They’re already at my house asking for public comment.”

The co-worker said she could not support her. “I have not witnessed anything nor have been a victim. Sorry but I cannot give witness in the case,’’ the co-worker said, according to the document.

“There was not a single mention in these text messages of discrimination by Mr. Arroyo due to race, religion, sex, or national origin in this version of her story,’’ nor were there any allegations of sexually charged remarks or threats she claimed by Arroyo, the document said. “Such allegations are, of course, prominent in [her] MCAD complaint.”

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Arroyo also characterized the woman as making “uninhibited disclosures of personal aspects of her life” in the workplace, including difficulty with her marriage and “inappropriate aspects of her sexual life.”


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