Dave Reid
Murphy’s Law

State Secrets

By - Jun 14th, 2001 08:55 am
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There is damaging information about Mayor John Norquist in the state files related to the investigation of Marilyn Figueroa‘s sexual harassment complaint. The most striking thing, however, is what isn’t there. A total of five witnesses friendly to Figueroa were interviewed by Pamela Meulemans, investigator for the state Equal Rights Division. Not one said Figueroa told them she was sexually harassed, much less sexually assaulted.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the case presented by Figueroa’s attorney Victor Arellano is “witness number one” Milwaukee Magazine. Arellano quotes the magazine’s senior editor Mary Nohl, who wrote that she had a taped interview of Norquist lying to her by denying a sexual relationship with Figueroa. This “will impact on the credibility” of the mayor, Arellano contends.

Arellano used this paragraph from Nohl’s 10,000-word story as an excuse to include a copy of the entire article in his complaint. This insured that the investigator would see a story that is very sympathetic to Figueroa. Compared to the testimony of the five people friendly to Figueroa, the Milwaukee Magazine article is by far the most compelling “witness” for Figueroa.

Arellano also drags in Norquist’s fundraiser Barbara Candy, noting that one witness was told by Candy that the mayor denied any sexual relationship to her. When contacted by Milwaukeeworld, however, Candy denied that she ever had such a discussion with Norquist.

Other than the Milwaukee Magazine story, the most helpful evidence to Figueroa is probably a memo by mayoral secretary Ruth Wyttenbach. Wyttenbach writes that she was called on January 19, 2000 by Figueroa’s sister, Marian Rodriguez, and told Figueroa had “taken some pills the night before” and was now in St. Luke’s Hospital. Wyttenbach says she called the hospital later and verified that Figueroa was there, but the nurse handling the case would not volunteer any information as to the patient’s condition.

Two days later, psychiatrist Robert L. Loiben signed a letter saying Figueroa is on “full-time medical leave,” without specifying why. This confirms that Figueroa had a medical condition, bolstering her claim the city shouldn’t have terminated her, but both sides are wrangling over whether Figueroa ever presented the medical excuse to the city. (Figueroa had quit showing up for work on January 5 and was finally terminated on February 2.)

Meanwhile, evidence of sexual harassment seems slim, despite the witness-friendly way testimony was taken at this stage. The witnesses testified anonymously (they are simply identified with a number) and were not subject to cross-examination, and were allowed to include hearsay.

The witnesses talk about Figueroa being emotionally upset or under stress, but three of the five recall this as happening in the last few months of her tenure, some five years after the harassment allegedly began. One witness recalls Figueroa as “unhappy at work” during her last year with the city, and one dates the problem to 1998.

Two witnesses say Figueroa did not mention any sexual encounters with the mayor, and two others say she told them about a sexual “relationship.” None of the four witnesses were told about a sexual assualt. Three did offer details Figueroa shared that suggest she was trying to avoid the mayor at work or at home.

Even the witness with the most damning description uses the term “sexual incidents” rather than harassment or assault. This witness said, “as early as ’95 or ’96 Marilyn complained that the Mayor was always coming into her office and shutting the door.” Over time Figueroa “progressed to comments that she hated the Mayor coming into her office, that he was bothering her.”

This same witness recalled being at Marilyn’s home when the phone rang about 15 times and Figueroa wouldn’t answer it because “the mayor called her at home a lot.”

Four witnesses were not told any sexual details until the last few months of Figueroa’s tenure with the city, when her relationship with her immediate boss, Mike Soika, became problematic. One of these five witnesses says Figueroa “was emotional in the office and would break into tears… Mike thought it would be best to get rid of Marilyn because she wasn’t functioning well and a capable individual… Marilyn relayed that Mayor and [mayoral assistant] Brenda Wood were concerned that Marilyn wasn’t pulling her weight.”

As for Figueroa’s claim of racial discrimination, two witnesses say minorities were not part of the “inner circle” in Norquist’s office, with one calling it a “good old boy’s club,” but neither accuses the city of discrimination. One of them concludes that there wasn’t an “intentional bias” against minorities.

Statistics provided by the city show that, if anything, minorities who worked in the mayor’s office were more likely to be promoted. Since 1992, minorities made up about 33 percent of all people hired and 37% of those promoted.

State investigator Pamela Meulemans, however, found enough evidence to conclude, “there is probable cause to believe the City of Milwaukee may have violated the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law.”

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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