Pharr settles sexual harassment suits for more than $40,000

PHARR — While Media Director Gary Rodriguez sat in his usual leather chair during Monday’s city commission meeting, commissioners voted to settle four sexual harassment lawsuits against him, totaling $43,148.

The lawsuits, which were originally filed in fall 2016, allege that Rodriguez sexually harassed four city employees staffed at the Pharr Events Center.

Mayor Ambrosio “Amos” Hernandez said after Monday’s meeting that he stood by a city statement last week.

“The city of Pharr resolved the cases of Dahlia Ybarra, Felix De La Garza, Veronica Limon and Anthony Alvarado — with an express denial of liability and wrongdoing — in order to save all parties from the rigors of protracted litigation,” the statement read. “The city denied and continues to deny the allegations in the settled lawsuits.”

Ybarra, who was awarded $27,500 in her settlement, alleges that Rodriguez made “unwanted sexual advances” toward her through “the latter part of 2014 and early part of 2015” when the Pharr Events Center box office supervisor would go to City Hall to deliver documents.

De La Garza, a layout supervisor who was awarded $2,716, alleges that Rodriguez grabbed his own genitals in front of De La Garza in May 2016, according to the petition. In a “lewd and lascivious manner,” Rodriguez called De La Garza “germaphobic” for finding Rodriguez’s conduct offensive, the petition stated.

Limon, a clerk at the events center who was awarded $10,216, alleges that Rodriguez “approached (her) from behind and started massaging her shoulders” in April 2016, according to an amended original petition submitted in March 2017. Rodriguez was later accused of stroking “the hair on the back of her head while walking by her.”

Alvarado, a concession stand manager who was awarded $2,716, alleges that Rodriguez, his supervisor and director, “was constantly making lewd comments to plaintiff Alvarado about the female employees that Rodriguez supervised.” The petition goes on to state that Alvarado found this “offensive,” and that Rodriguez shared graphic details about his sexual life with other women.

Hernandez and City Manager Juan Guerra said they continue to encourage city employees to come forward and report concerns of workplace misconduct.