Photo: Cathy Zuraw / Hearst Connecticut Media
Statutes prohibiting harassment in the workplace have been around long enough that they ought to be second nature to most people. There are behaviors that are known to be off-limits. This applies to circumstances that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem outside the workplace, but once the involved parties are in an office, the rules are different.
Bridgeport City Council President Aidee Nieves put it succinctly recently: “You’re not supposed to have relations with your subordinates.”
Apparently, that news has yet to reach certain corners of City Hall, where reports indicate Public Facilities Director John Ricci had an inappropriate relationship with a staffer.
That staffer, Grace Concalves, is one of two Ricci subordinates who have now filed complaints with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities; Goncalves previously filed a sexual harassment complaint with Bridgeport’s Office of Labor Relations.
It all adds up to, at a minimum, an embarrassment for City Hall and especially Ricci, who has been punished along with three members of his staff for their roles in selling municipal scrap metal for cash that was deposited in an off-the-books fund. That action has attracted the attention of the FBI, which is also reportedly looking into no-bid city contracts involving companies hired by that department.
In the case of Goncalves’ claim against Ricci, the city’s choice of an outside law firm, Berchem Moses, found no validity to the sexual harassment charge. But with two women saying Ricci tried to date them while he was in a position to help or hurt their careers, there’s little question a line was crossed. A string of text messages uncovered in the investigation makes clear this was not a typical workplace interaction.
As Nieves put it, “Those types of actions between a supervisor and an employee are inappropriate.”
Supervisors are required to undergo at least two hours of sexual harassment training per year, which last took place in January 2018. The topic of workplace relationships is included in that training, according to the city. So it’s not for lack of knowledge that such guidance was not followed. It’s more like a lack of common sense.
The behavior in question appears to fall in a gray area of the not exactly illegal but certainly ethically questionable. That’s the point state Sen. Marilyn Moore, who is running for mayor, was making when she called on Ricci to be fired. “This is what’s missing in this administration. Ethical behavior. Not legally wrong or right, but what is ethical,” she said.
Sending overly affectionate text messages, as happened in this case, is not going to get anyone put in jail. But it sets a tone for the administration, as well as the city, that operating in a gray area is not a serious problem.
If there is one administration in the state that ought to fear the implications of operating in an ethical gray area, it should be that of Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.