LAREDO, Texas (CN) - An administrative assistant claims a Webb County commissioner forced her to give him oral sex "on an almost weekly basis" for years to keep her job, then stripped her of her duties when she filed a sexual harassment claim against him.
Sara [X] aka Sara Jo [X] sued Webb County and Francisco Sciaraffa in Federal Court. She says she felt she had to succumb to Sciaraffa's predations because it would take her 8 years to become fully vested in the county retirement plan.
Laredo is the seat of Webb County.
X says in her complaint she worked for Webb County for more than 9 years, and started as a constituent relations officer.
"On or about January of 2004, defendant Francisco J. Sciaraffa announced his candidacy for County Commissioner of Precinct 1 of Webb County. At or about the same time, Mr. Sciaraffa approached Sara Jo and asked for her assistance with his campaigning efforts," the complaint states.
X says she went door-to-door to promote Sciaraffa's candidacy, spoke for him at dances, scheduled his appointments and coordinated his public relations efforts, helping Sciaraffa get elected in April 2004.
"At his swearing-in ceremony, Commissioner Sciaraffa introduced his newly selected staff. Commissioner Sciaraffa introduced Sara Jo as his administrative assistant," according to the complaint.
X says that in July 2008 Sciaraffa filed a motion before the Webb County Commissioners Court that she be appointed director of La Presa Community Center, and she was unanimously approved.
X says she did a good job as the center's director, and the commissioners court gave her good yearly evaluations from 2009 to 2011, and kept her in the post.
For example, X says, during her May 18, 2009 evaluation before the commissioners court Sciaraffa publicly stated: "I have nothing but good things about Sara Jo and as long as I'm here at commissioner it's gonna, it's gonna remain director [sic] and I would hope that the court would support me. As far as her evaluation judge ... .A plus. She's a go-getter."
But X says Sciaraffa had a dark side that she dealt with for 3 years while working as his administrative assistant.
"To an outsider looking in, Sara Jo's work environment might have seemed ideal and welcoming," the complaint states. "Unfortunately this was not the case at all.
"Sara Jo began to be sexually harassed by Commissioner Sciaraffa on or about September 2005, during her first year as Commission Sciaraffa's administrative assistant.
"Commissioner Sciaraffa began to make inappropriate and unwelcome comments to Sara Jo regarding sex. He would make inappropriate and unwelcome comments to Sara Jo about her breasts.
"For example, he would ask, 'Are they real?' He would follow up said question by saying, 'Can I touch them? Let me see them ...' Being embarrassed and shocked, Sara Jo responded, 'Shut up! Are you crazy?'"
X says Sciaraffa said more than once that "he was a 'tit man' and that he 'loved tits.'"
She says she asked Sciaraffa to stop the lewd comments but he did not, and his harassing behavior escalated.
"On or about December 2005, Commissioner Sciaraffa touched Sara Jo in an unwelcome manner," the complaint states. "Sara Jo was sitting at her desk in her office working on some paperwork.
"Commissioner Sciaraffa walked into the office and walked over to Sara Jo. He stood next to her as she was working at her desk, as if he was going to look at what she was working on.
"Without warning and sudden-like, Commissioner Sciaraffa stuck his hand down into Sara Jo's shirt and into Sara Jo's bra, managing to quickly grab her left breast.
"Sara Jo immediately grabbed and pushed Commissioner Sciaraffa's hand away from her person and said, 'No. Stop it!'
"Commissioner Sciaraffa moved back and said, 'Look how I am ...' As he said this, Commissioner Sciaraffa was looking down and touching his crotch. Commissioner Sciaraffa had an erection which was visible through his pants. Sara Jo responded, 'Don't be doing that!'
"Sara Jo was angry and began to ignore him and not speak to him."
X says that after this incident Sciaraffa started being short with her, and commenting that she was not doing her job correctly.
"On or about December of 2005, Commissioner Sciaraffa called Sara Jo into his office through the door that adjoined both his and Sara Jo's offices. He then told Sara Jo to lock her front door as well as his front door," according to the complaint.
"Commissioner Sciaraffa was sitting behind his desk and Sara Jo sat down on one of the chairs in front of Sciaraffa's desk. Commissioner Sciaraffa and Sara Jo began to talk about something or other, when suddenly, Sciaraffa changed the subject and stated, 'Hey, you look good.'
"He then stoop up and walked around his desk and told Sara Jo 'Come on, you need to keep your job.' He then began to unzip his pants and pulled out his penis.
"Sara Jo stared at him and Sciaraffa said, 'Don't worry. You know I'll always take care of you.' Commissioner Sciaraffa began to fondle Sara Jo's breasts and then put his hand on Sara Jo's head and said, 'Look, I haven't had any in a long time.'
"Sara Jo said, 'No, Frank!' Commissioner Sciaraffa responded by saying 'Just a little bit. I promise that as long as I'm commissioner you will have a job. Remember, you need to take care of you job'
"Commissioner Sciaraffa continued to push Sara Jo's head down. Sara Jo, knowing that she needed her job, was forced to perform oral sex on Commissioner Sciaraffa.
"After that, Commissioner Sciaraffa continued to sexually, mentally and emotionally abuse Sara Jo. He would humiliate Sara Jo at all the staff meetings in front of the staff.
"Sara Jo was made to feel that performing oral sex was part of her job duties and the only thing that would save her job.
"Sara Jo was forced to perform oral sex on Commissioner Sciaraffa on an almost weekly basis for the next three years as his administrative assistant.
"Commissioner Sciaraffa continued threatening Sara Jo on a regular basis by reminding her that he could get rid of her if he wanted to, that Commissioners Court would side with him over Sara Jo if it came to that point, and that she could lose her job."
X says she "deeply regrets not summoning up the courage sooner to put a stop to Commissioner Sciaraffa's demands for oral sex and feel utterly ashamed, but was afraid of losing her job, losing her economic position, and losing her health insurance benefits."
X says she was particularly afraid to lose her health coverage as she went through double-bypass heart surgery in 2005, and she is the sole guardian of her 6-year-old granddaughter, who has a health condition that requires special orthopedic shoes.
"Furthermore, the re-employment prospects for Sara Jo - a fifty-three year old woman with only a high school diploma - were not something encouraging, especially in the economy of 2005 through the present," the complaint states. "Sara Jo had never held as high-paying a job (with health insurance benefits) as she does presently, and probably never will again.
"Sara Jo has no other source of income aside from her salary with Webb County. As a Webb County employee, Sara Jo also had to wait eight years before she could be 100 percent vested in her retirement plan with the county." (Parentheses in complaint.)
X says when she was transferred to La Presa Community Center Sciaraffa would go there at least once every 2 weeks, and continued demanding oral in return for her keeping her job.
"Commissioner Sciaraffa would call Sara Jo into his office at La Presa and would ask Sara Jo to lock the door. He would then pressure her to perform oral sex against her will," according to the complaint. "This went on for approximately three more years. Commissioner Sciaraffa would threaten Sara Jo with losing her job and he would remind her that she needed her job and that she needed to take care of it.
"On January of 2011 - after having worked for eight years for Webb County - Sara Jo became fully vested in her retirement plan with the county and slowly began building up the courage to speak up against Commissioner Sciaraffa."
X says that on May 6 Sciaraffa came to her La Presa office and locked the door.
The complaint states: "At this point, Sara Jo yelled 'No!' at him and told him, 'No!' No more, commissioner. It's over!'
"Sara Jo left her office and Commissioner Sciaraffa followed her back to the dining room. He did not bother her again."
X says she filed an EEOC discrimination claim on July 27, 2011, complaining of Sciaraffa's sexual harassment. She says she filed the claim only 9 days after the commissioners' court, including Sciaraffa, had unanimously voted to retain her as La Presa's director.
"On August 11, 2011 - a mere twenty-four (24) days after her stellar performance evaluation - Commissioner Sciaraffa verbally informed Sara Jo that she had been relieved of all decision making responsibilities at La Presa, but gave no explanation as to why," the complaint states. "Furthermore, Commissioner Sciaraffa began a systematic undermining of Sara Jo's authority at La Presa as retaliation for having filed the EEOC complaint."
X says Sciaraffa put other people in charge of the community center, asked her to stop attending weekly directors' meetings and told her through his lackeys that he would not mess with her anymore if she dropped the EEOC charges.
"On October, 27, 2011, Sara Jo filed an amendment to her EEOC complaint, informing the EEOC that she was being pressured by Commissioner Sciaraffa to drop the EEOC complaint," according to the complaint.
X says Sciaraffa's retaliation continued on Feb. 14, when he reassigned her to a different community center.
"After being director of La Presa since July 28, 2008 - 3 years and 7 months - and after having received three unanimous and successive stellar evaluations, Sara Jo was stripped of her position at the La Presa Community Center and was transferred to Rio Bravo Activity Center to be co-director," according to the complaint.
X says she has been seeing a psychologist to cope with the "emotional trauma" Sciaraffa put her through.
She seeks damages for sexual harassment, retaliation and assault.
She is represented by Norberto Cardenas III.