New Bedford Dept. Head Remains on Payroll Amidst Sexual Harassment Case
NEW BEDFORD — The head of the Traffic Commission and Parking Clerk for the City of New Bedford, Scott Downing, remains on the City's payroll amidst allegations of sexual harassment by one of his former employees.
The allegations were the subject of a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination on March 4, 2015. On July 31, 2017, MCAD completed its investigation into the claims and found probable cause for sexual harassment, retaliation, constructive discharge, and individual liability against Downing and the City of New Bedford.
According to Jonathan Carvalho, a spokesman for Mayor Jon Mitchell, Downing remains the Executive Secretary of the Traffic Commission and Parking Clerk for the City of New Bedford. However, Downing has been on medical leave since July 2018. A database of public salaries for employees of the City of New Bedford lists Downing as receiving a salary of $78,504.30 in 2017, the most recent year available for publicly disclosed salaries.
The complainant, a woman hired by the City of New Bedford in October 2011 as a Clerk Typist in the Traffic Commission office, claims that beginning in late 2012 Downing began to subject her to sexual harassment.
According to the investigative disposition released by MCAD, toward the end of 2012 and through 2013 Downing would call the woman into his office on the pretense of discussing work-related issues but would instead tell her of his recent sexual exploits and that he wished to engage in sexual contact with her.
In 2013, the complainant was promoted to the position of Principal Clerk. According to her complaint, during that year she was cornered by Downing in a supply closet. She claims Downing grabbed and kissed her and grabbed her breasts under her shirt, removing them from her bra. The woman said she was able to remove herself from the situation but was extremely upset and feared she would lose her job if she didn't tolerate Downing's behavior toward her.
Downing also allegedly told the complainant that she owed her job to him and he could have her fired. He reportedly refused to sign any kind of paperwork unless the woman stood behind his desk to hand it to him. Downing would often hand the papers back to her by pushing them against her breasts, according to the complaint.
When the woman tried to transfer to another department in late 2013, Downing allegedly refused her transfer and additionally threatened her husband's job with the City of New Bedford. The woman told MCAD that she did not report Downing's behavior to the Personnel department because they were not of assistance to another employee who reported similar distasteful behavior by Downing in the past.
Throughout 2014, the reported unwanted sexual advances by Downing persisted. On one occasion, Downing observed the complainant holding a pen shortly after she had been promoted to Administrative Specialist. The woman said Downing remarked, "Oh, I love the way you hold that. I have something for you to hold. Do you want to see it?"
At around the same time, the complainant said she had approached Downing to discuss a work-related matter when Downing grabbed her hand and said, "You want to see what you do to me?" He then allegedly forced her hand to rub his erect penis over his pants several times.
Downing also allegedly attempted to grab her groin and also repeatedly rubbed his hand against her inner thigh on separate occasions.
Shortly after July 2014, Downing summoned the complainant into his office and allegedly exposed his erect penis and said to her, "Let me put it in just once, you might like it."
Downing's behavior was also reported as violent at times. When the complainant once asked a question about a DMV law, Downing reportedly threw the DMV rulebook at her, striking her and knocking items off of her desk. In another instance, Downing yelled at the woman, "If you f—ked up my f—king number then you can get the f—k out of my f—king office and pack your f—king s—t now."
The woman filed a report with the City of New Bedford's Personnel Office about her work environment on February 4, 2015 and did not return to work. According to the City of New Bedford and Scott Downing, the report filed with the Personnel Office was of a "non-sexual hostile work environment." It wasn't until February 9 that the woman raised concerns of sexual harassment by Downing while she was on a medical leave of absence.
In response to the complaint filed with MCAD, the City of New Bedford and Scott Downing have denied the allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment made by the complainant.
The City and Downing say that after the complainant was promoted to Administrative Specialist on July 21, 2014 she requested that she receive retroactive pay going back to July 1. She allegedly became angry at Downing after learning that her request had been denied.
The City and Downing also stated that the complainant was "demeaning and controlling" towards employees under her authority when Downing was out of the office, leading to one of them quitting in January 2015. Downing and the City claimed that the woman had difficulty performing financial analysis and working on budgets, and often passed off the work of one of her employees as her own.
The City of New Bedford conducted an investigation using a third party and determined that while Downing used foul language on occasion, there was not enough evidence to corroborate the woman's claims of sexual harassment. The City required that all employees of the Traffic Department undergo sensitivity training.
When asked if the City had taken any further action on the matter or was awaiting any further outcomes in the case, Jonathan Carvalho declined further comment.
MCAD reviewed the 32-page investigative report commissioned by the City and noted that the report determined that the complainant had not been subjected to sexual harassment. However, MCAD states that if the complainant's allegations are true they are "sufficiently severe and pervasive to establish a sexually hostile work environment."
Through its investigative disposition, MCAD has recommended a finding of probable cause for sexual harassment, retaliation, constructive discharge, and individual liability against Downing and the City of New Bedford. MCAD states, however, that determining whether the allegations occurred is "better suited for determination by a fact finder."
William Harrington, the attorney representing the City of New Bedford in the complaint against it and Downing, said in a written statement, "As a general matter, the city does not comment on pending litigation." Attorney Harrington referred to MCAD's citing of the neutral third party investigator hired by the City, stating that "the complainant had not been subjected to sexual harassment."
"The MCAD acknowledged the city's defenses but concluded that, because there were disputed issues of material fact, the dispute should be resolved by a fact finder," wrote Attorney Harrington.
Attempts to reach Downing for comment were unsuccessful. Two listed numbers for Downing were not in service when WBSM News attempted to contact Downing on Monday.