Riviera employee details sexual misconduct of 2 ex-officials in suit

Updated Jan 23, 2018
A window is opened at Riviera Beach City Hall, which was temporarily closed on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, because of a problem with chemical fumes in the building, the city said. (Julius Whigham II/The Palm Beach Post)

A Riviera Beach Public Works employee has sued the city, her former department head and a former interim city manager, alleging the officials sexually harassed and assaulted her and that supervisors did nothing about it.

The advances of former Interim City Manager Danny Jones and former Public Works Director Brynt Johnson led to loss of dignity, severe mental anguish and lost wages, Kimbley Scott alleged in the suit filed Jan. 16 in Palm Beach County circuit court.

“In 2016, Johnson began repeatedly assaulting Scott by… grabbing her, pulling her hair, holding her against his person and reaching down Scott’s pants to grab her undergarments and give her a ‘wedgie,’” the suit alleged. The actions took place at the workplace and despite her numerous requests to stop, it said.

Jones, at a parking lot outside an office holiday party in 2015, “proceeded to expose himself to Scott and make lewd comments, including requesting Scott perform oral sex,” she alleged.

Neither Johnson nor Jones could be reached for comment on the suit. A paralegal answering the phone in the city attorney’s office said the city would have no comment.

Johnson was placed on paid leave in July, pending an investigation, the nature of which was not disclosed. He resigned under pressure in December.

Interim City Manager Jones, passed over for the permanent city manager position, became deputy manager in March, only to reach an agreement to leave his job mid-year but not resign officially until October.

That investigation led to the departures of Jones and Johnson, according to City Council Chairwoman KaShamba Miller-Anderson.

In addition to portraying a years-long atmosphere of sexual harassment in the Public Works Department, the allegations, if true, would shed light on an ongoing mystery at the highest level of the city government: why the council fired popular city manager Jonathan Evans after barely six months on the job. The three council members who voted to fire him — Lynne Hubbard, Terence Davis and Dawn Pardo — refused to detail their reasons, other than saying he committed “misfeasance” or didn’t meet their demands, which Evans denied.

Miller-Anderson, who voted not to fire him, said she believed Evans was fired at least in part because they’d wanted Jones in the manager’s job and resented investigations Evans launched after he came on board in March.

“I truly believe Jonathan Evans was terminated because he was doing investigations on a number of individuals and they didn’t like that … They were retaliating against Evans for looking into the issues. I felt that way from the beginning.”

According to the lawsuit, Scott went to the new city manager to advise him of “the ongoing and repeated offensive touching, unwanted advances, abuse and retaliation by Johnson and Jones.” Evans immediately ordered an independent investigation.

Scott then went to City Councilwoman Lynne Hubbard for help, as well. Instead, Hubbard responded that Evans’ investigation “would bankrupt the city and she (Hubbard) needed to get rid of him,” the suit alleged. A week later, Hubbard was one of the three votes to fire Evans.

Hubbard declined comment on the suit Tuesday.

“Clearly the decision to terminate Evans was made, at least in part, as a result of his actions to investigate the abusive behavior to which Scott had been subjected for years during her employment with the city,” according to the suit filed by West Palm Beach lawyer Justus Reid.

The suit contended Jones’ and Johnson’s alleged groping and other offensive behavior constituted battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

By not addressing the problem, the city allowed the conduct to occur without consequences and “perpetuated and promoted an environment conducive of ongoing abuse,” the suit alleged.