A sexual harassment case against the Broward County School Board that makes more than 20 allegations against Principal Oslay Gil of Riverland Elementary fits the criteria of a hostile work environment harassment claim, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Gil is accused of a host of misconduct against school guidance counselor Cherellda Branch-McKenzie, including placing his fingers on her lips “if he thought she was talking too loud,” and telling her, “Girl, you look good. I sure would like to see what that’s like. I know I can have THAT!”
The move reversed a trial court ruling that stated Gil’s alleged behavior was not “pervasive” enough, but affirmed the dismissal of four other counts against the school board — unlawful retaliation and negligent hiring, supervision and retention.
According to the original complaint filed Sept. 19, 2014, Gil allegedly touched Branch-McKenzie’s buttocks, then said, “Oh, I’m sorry, but it felt good!”
In hindsight, Gil is reported to have said that touching Branch-McKenzie’s bottom was a mistake, but “a good mistake.”
Gil is also accused of touching Branch-McKenzie’s back and hair, despite her objections. The incident was overheard by a coworker, who claimed Gil said Branch-McKenzie was “like a mango … You can’t just have one.”
The school board had moved for summary judgment, arguing that regardless of whether the alleged events occurred, they weren’t “pervasive” enough to support the plaintiff’s claim.
Gil has denied all allegations against him, and in his deposition said the pair had “a good relationship.”
Read Principal Oslay Gil’s Deposition transcripts:
But this wasn’t Gil’s first harassment complaint.
According to court documents, Gil was transferred to Riverland after similar complaints from employees at his previous school. Gil was placed on administrative leave with pay for a year, then suspended for 10 days and moved to Riverland.
“He’s basically just picked up where he left off,” said Branch-McKenzie’s attorney, Melissa Mihok of CPLS Litigation in Orlando. “I have 20 different people at the present school or the school he was at previously that have either witnessed him sexually harass people, or have been sexually harassed.”
Read the court opinion:
The opinion, written by Fourth DCA Judge Burton C. Conner on behalf of a panel consisting of Judges Robert M. Gross and Mark M. Klingensmith, states that witnesses at Riverland have claimed Oslay repeatedly referred to McKenzie as his “boo.”
Branch-McKenzie reported the alleged behavior to the school board’s equal employment opportunity office, after which point she dodged Gil at all costs, according to her attorney.
“She was afraid to go to staff meetings, so she would basically be insubordinate by not going to meetings because she was trying to avoid Gil at all times,” Mihok said.
Branch-McKenzie also asked a co-worker, another alleged victim, for help.
“They made a pact to never leave themselves alone with him,” Mihok said.
According to Mihok, Branch-McKenzie has since transferred to a guidance counselor position at another school, but before she left, Gil “ordered her to spend half of her time acting as a PE teacher while still completing her duties as a guidance counselor,even though she had a medical issue with her knee.”
Branch-McKenzie, who’d worked at the school since 1994, also claimed that Gil thwarted her attempt to become assistant principal.
“Anytime anybody would call and ask for a reference he would give her a bad reference,” Mihok said.
Mihok said her client is pleased with the ruling.
“We’re very confident that a jury will see this for what it is and that’s blatant sexual harassment that shouldn’t be tolerated, especially in the school system, but anywhere,” Mihok said.