The Baltimore Board of Estimates awarded $225,000 Wednesday to a woman who sued the city over alleged sexual harassment from a former city employee who had previously faced similar allegations.
“What we’re paying out is not just for what the former employee did, but for the city’s culpability in failing to catch this in the first place,” Deputy City Solicitor Stephen Salsbury said during Tuesday’s Board of Estimates meeting.
A woman alleged that former Baltimore City Community Action Partnership Center employee Gary Smith sexually harassed her during the summer of 2018, including inflicting inappropriate, unwanted touch. The Baltimore Sun does not name victims of sexual assault or abuse without their consent.
The plaintiff did not file a lawsuit against Smith and the city until 2021. Smith did not have an attorney listed in the complaint. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.
According to the civil complaint, the plaintiff went to the Baltimore City Community Action Partnership Center on July 31, 2018, to apply for energy assistance from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. after her service was interrupted.
Once there, she said Smith asked about her relationship status, commented on her weight and requested that she stand. Per the complaint, when she stood, the plaintiff alleged that Smith reached over his desk, slapped her buttocks and said “your butt is getting smaller.” He then began discussing his attraction to women.
The plaintiff reported Smith’s behavior to another employee, who reported it to police, the complaint reads. She then recounted her experience on Facebook, where she received comments from other women who said they had similar experiences at the Community Action Partnership Center.
According to the Board of Estimates agenda, the plaintiff’s claims were investigated by the Department of Human Resources, which concluded that Smith had violated the city’s sexual harassment policy. According to Salsbury, Smith opted to resign during the investigation.
Following his resignation, Salsbury said, at least one additional allegation was made against Smith.
Investigators also found that Smith had a history of sexual harassment complaints, and that he was fired in 2009 for harassment.
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Salsbury said Tuesday that, due to Smith being a civil service employee at the time, he was able to have his termination overturned because the criminal charges against him were dropped.
Salsbury noted that Smith was involved with another sexual harassment complaint involving a custodial worker, but the claims were unsubstantiated because the accuser declined to participate in the investigation.
Mosby asked Salsbury if the city had updated its human resources policy to ensure that fewer of these incidents occur.
Salsbury said that, “in terms of the employment disciplinary process,” the city followed protocol.
“Unfortunately, as is often the case surrounding allegations of sexual harassment, you have a survivor or a victim who does not want to participate in that investigation for clearly understandable reasons,” he explained. “However, without that participation, it can be very difficult to then substantiate findings.”
Civil service employees, like Smith formerly was, are entitled to certain job protections, prohibiting the city from taking disciplinary actions — even demotions — without being able to substantiate findings.
“This was a case where you had two prior incidents that, ultimately ... the city was not able to move forward with its disciplinary process and, unfortunately, this former employee was able to carry out another act of sexual violence,” Salsbury said.