Lawsuit adds details to sexual harassment claims against Felix G. Arroyo
A woman who said she was repeatedly harassed by former Boston health and human services chief Felix G. Arroyo filed a lawsuit against him this week, alleging Arroyo manipulated her into a sexual relationship in 2016 and harassed and verbally abused her at work when she ended it.
Hilani Morales, who is married and worked for Arroyo in the department of health and human services, filed the complaint Monday in Suffolk Superior Court against Arroyo and the City of Boston. She alleges the city illegally retaliated against her by demoting her and moving her to another department when she complained about Arroyo. She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.
Morales said she suffered trauma as a result of the experience, was unable to return to work from a medical leave of absence, and resigned in November.
Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing and has accused Morales of trying to destroy his reputation. He declined to comment about the lawsuit.
“Mr. Arroyo remains confident that after all of the inherently contradictory and uncorroborated stories that this alleged victim has told about Mr. Arroyo are exposed further during the course of this lawsuit, a verdict will [be] in his favor and he will be vindicated,’’ said Isaac Peres, the lawyer representing Arroyo.
Morales filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in August and described what she characterized as a hostile working environment, inappropriate conduct, and repeated sexual harassment at the hands of Arroyo. She said he once grabbed her by the back of her neck very hard.
The MCAD document, however, did not say there had been a sexual relationship.
Morales withdrew that complaint in November in order to file the civil suit.
Morales’s lawyer, John Tocci, said that by withdrawing her MCAD complaint and suing, “Ms. Morales has made a conscious decision to come forward, identify herself, and stand behind her assertions.’’
The Globe had not identified Morales prior to the filing of the lawsuit, because the newspaper generally does not name victims or accusers in certain types of cases, and the MCAD complaint was not a public document. But the lawsuit is a public record, and does not contain allegations of sexual assault.
“She has no doubt that she will be subjected to attack, as she was in the aftermath of filing her MCAD charge,” Tocci said.
“Nonetheless, every allegation in this complaint is true and she would not subject herself to the spotlight and possible backlash unless they were true.’’
He said Morales will not be making any public statements. “We look forward to prosecuting these claims and holding the defendants to account for their illegal actions,’’ his message said.
City officials said they were reviewing the lawsuit.
In August, Laura Oggeri, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s spokeswoman, called the allegations in the MCAD complaint “intolerable and disturbing.”
The lawsuit provides new details about the alleged relationship between Morales and Arroyo.
In the complaint, Morales said she performed at or above acceptable levels in her former job as a policy director, despite a “discriminatory work environment, which was rife with inappropriate, unwelcome sexual comments, and actions primarily offered by Arroyo,” who was Walsh’s health services chief.
She accuses Arroyo of “using his position of power and his awareness of [her] personal turmoil” to “manipulate her into an intermittent sexual relationship” in 2016.
“This relationship was marked by the extreme imbalance of power between a mid-level staffer and a Cabinet head,’’ the lawsuit states. Morales unequivocally terminated the relationship in early 2017, according to the suit.
Yet Arroyo kept “pressuring Morales, engaging in persistent sexual communications, and threatening’’ her, the complaint says.
She alleges the harassment continued for months. Specifically, the document says, Arroyo made repeated requests for sex, verbally abused her, and in one instance physically assaulted her.
Unable to “withstand the torrent” any longer, she complained to city human resources officials but was demoted and transferred to the facilities department, she said. Morales had been a city employee since 2012 and was recruited by Arroyo to work as his policy director. The harassment began immediately, the suit alleges. Morales says in the complaint that Arroyo would comment about her buttocks and clothing, often whispering in Spanish and touching and groping her in his office or his personal vehicle.
She said Arroyo was aware that she and her husband had separated. Morales claims Arroyo took advantage of her circumstances and emotional state and his “occupational dominance” to initiate and continue a relationship with her.
Morales said she relented and had an “intermittent sexual relationship” with him; according to the lawsuit, she felt trapped and confused. When she learned her husband would require chemotherapy for an aggressive cancer, she decided to be by his side and support their family, which includes their young son.
She said that in January 2017, she told Arroyo, who was also married at the time, that she was ending the relationship, but Arroyo kept asking for sex.
Arroyo was fired in August, after city officials completed a “comprehensive internal investigation” that started July 27 and concluded Aug. 23.