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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Politics

Head Start director resigns in wake of sex harassment investigation

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TAMPA — The acting director of Hillsborough County’s Head Start program has resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, according to a county investigative report.

Erica Moore, who was hired Jan. 28 as the director of Hillsborough Children’s Services, resigned Nov. 1 after an outside investigator found she made sexually inappropriate comments to other female employees.

“Erica decided it was in everybody’s best interest to separate our employee relationship,” said Helene Marks, the county’s chief administrative officer. Marks declined further comment.

Moore could not be reached for comment.

Three county employees, including the acting director of the Children’s Services division, said Moore made sexual comments that made them uncomfortable. Out of 16 allegations made about Moore’s statements and actions, investigators concluded 12 were founded, three lacked sufficient evidence, and one was founded in part.

Nancy Russ, Moore’s administrative assistant, told the investigator her boss suggested she go home and have sex with her husband and gave Russ a book entitled “The Good Girl’s Guide to Bad Girl Sex.”

Russ also accused Moore of making flirtatious remarks. On one occasion, Moore commented that Russ was wearing her “sexy jeans.”

“I may have to start hitting on you,” Moore said, according to Russ.

Russ and another employee, Joanne Pressey-Rollins, told investigators Moore made physical conduct with them in suggestive ways: stroking Russ’ hair and putting her hands on Pressey-Rollins’ shoulders in an attempt to massage them.

Pressey-Rollins was made acting director of Children’s Services when Moore was named interim director of Head Start, the federally funded, early childhood education program. In August, Pressey-Rollins was at a conference in Atlanta and spoke with Moore on the phone.

Pressey-Rollins said she told Moore how upset she had been when a former boss made sexual comments to her. She told Moore she had wanted to put “a pistol between his legs so he could see how it feels to be harassed.” Moore replied, according to Presley-Rollins, “I would love for you to stick the pistol between my legs … that would make me excited and be a turn on. Let me know when you want to do it.”

The third employee making allegations, Danielle Husband, also said Moore made crude remarks about her and her spouse’s love life. For instance, Moore allegedly told Husband she should “greet her husband naked at the door with a martini.”

The women’s statements, for the most part, were backed up in interviews with other female employees who were either present when the remarks were made or who were told about the incidents by the complainants. For instance, Pressey-Rollins shared her concerns about Moore with co-worker Tracy Iverson, and even gave Iverson her brother’s phone number in the event Pressey-Rollins had to defend herself against a sexual advance by Moore while the two women were in Atlanta.

Investigator Kevin Kalwary, whose firm is under contract to the county, also interviewed county human resources employees who corroborated allegations made against Moore.

“As outlined by the witnesses, each independently, Moore is described as repeatedly discussing marital relationships, how to keep spouses satisfied and to reduce stress with a sexual undertone,” Kalwary wrote.

“Although this may be an appropriate conversation with established friends and in a personal setting,” Kalwary wrote, “none of these comments are appropriate for the work place or amongst co-workers who have not developed or engaged in a personal relationship.”

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