The District’s Office of the People’s Counsel is supposed to help residents. But one of the agency’s top officials also wanted to help himself to one of the agency’s employees, according to a six-figure jury decision handed down last week in a harassment case that involves lollipops and some salaciously arranged fruit.
OPC Manager of External Affairs Herbert Jones faces a $105,837 judgment over the case, filed against him by OPC employee Abigail Cassell. Jones attorney Donald M. Temple, who claims that the evidence in the case supported Jones’ side, says his client is considering an appeal.
Cassell’s trouble began less than two weeks after she joined OPC in June 2010 to work in consumer outreach, according to her 2012 harassment complaint. In one of the first of many strange incidents, Jones allegedly told Cassell that he had hired her because of how “sexy” she looked in a suit. What followed, according to the complaint, were a series of unwelcome come-ons, including one offer to perform oral sex because she was “one black beautiful lady.”
At one point, Jones visited his sick employee in the hospital, only to allegedly remark on how delighted he was to see her in bed “as he had always imagined.” This being a tale of harassment in the District government, there’s even a scene at Vince Gray‘s inaugural ball, where Jones allegedly tried to convince Cassell to go home with him.
According to the complaint, Jones had a real thing for lollipops, allegedly asking Cassell to suck or lick one in front of him.
[Jones] asked if she would unwrap it and lick or suck it so he could [see] what her lips would look like while she sucked on the lollipop. Ms. Cassell became very nervous and took the lollipop and put it in her drawer. Jones scolded her and told she must act like an adult and stop acting like a baby.
The whole complaint culminates with the alleged creation of a phallic sculpture straight out of the produce section:
Ms. Cassell came to work one morning and found that someone had been in her office area, and had left a banana and two tangerines on her desk and arranged them to resemble male genitalia. She wondered how the fruit got there. Ms. Cassell noticed that Jones had come into the office early that morning. Jones walked into her office and said “I would like to see you eat the banana in front of my eyes.”
When Cassell complained about the purported harassment, they refused to take her seriously, according to the complaint. The District and other OPC officials were initially also listed in the lawsuit, but were eventually removed from the case by a judge. A spokesman for OPC declined to comment on the case.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery