Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Figueroa Accused Another Man of Sex Harassment

By - Aug 13th, 2001 12:45 pm

For months I’ve been hearing rumblings that Marilyn Figueroa had accused another man of sexual harassment. Through a series of off-the-record conversations, I learned the incident occurred when Figueroa worked for the Social Development Commission. She was employed there in 1991 and 1992, prior to being hired by the office of Mayor John Norquist.

Robert Odom, former director of SDC, confirms that Figueroa charged sex harassment against her supervisor.

“It did happen,” one former SDC executive told me. “Figueroa made the complaint against a supervisor at SDC.” George Gerharz, who was a deputy director at SDC at the time, told me “I recall something like that happening.”

I learned who was Figueroa’s supervisor at SDC and called him. He would not talk about it on the record, but admitted Figueroa made the complaint against him and that he resigned rather than fight Figueroa.

So I called Robert Odom, who was executive director of SDC at the time in question. Odom now works as the President of Love, Inc., a Christian organization in Minneapolis. I asked Odom, did Marilyn Figueroa accuse her supervisor (whose name I mentioned) of sexual harassment? “Yes, I do remember that,” Odom said. “Yes, it did happen.”

“Both of them were excellent employees,” Odom said. He said there were “some other issues” involved, but that in essence, Figueroa’s supervisor resigned rather than fight the harassment accusation.

Supporters of Figueroa paint a very negative picture of the man she accused, while he has a very different story to tell. I think the details are irrelevant, as is the name of the man Figueroa accused, because it never became a legal case and is ancient history. But the fact that Figueroa accused someone else of sexual harassment could be very relevant to the City of Milwaukee’s defense of the mayor.

“It would show that Figueroa knows enough about sexual harassment and yet she didn’t file a case for that for a long period of time,” says City Attorney Grant Langley, who is handling the city’s defense, but was unaware of her prior complaint. “She knew sexual harassment is an actionable matter, yet she did nothing for 300 days after getting a complaint form from the city.”

“It shows Figueroa knows enough about sexual harassment and yet she didn’t file a case for that for a long period of time,” says City Attorney Grant Langley.

“It came to me as a race discrimination case,” says Attorney John Fuchs, who was the second attorney hired by Figueroa. Because Figueroa has disclosed the details of her discussions with Fuchs, he has been willing to talk about it. “It was only on the second meeting with her that it became a sex harassment case,” he notes.

Figueroa continued to add to her accusations. Her complaint with the state filed on December 4, 2000, mentioned nothing about Norquist leaving an apple on her desk as an act of harassment. But after Langley’s brief argued that the case had not been filed in a timely fashion because all the alleged incidents happened more than 300 days before Figueroa’s initial filing, her attorney Victor Arellano presented a new filing with the apple incident, which fell within the 300 days. In short, if there was no apple, there could be no case.

“There’s no fruit in my document,” says Fuchs, who wrote a Notice of Claim with a laundry list of charges against Norquist along with a demand for a $5 million settlement. “I had her [Figueroa] write out everything she recalled,” Fuchs says, which was then incorporated into her claim.

Langley has another filing due August 13, asking Administrative Law Judge Allen Lawent to dismiss the case. Figueroa and Arellano did not respond to my calls asking for a comment.

Does Milwaukee Need a New Slogan?

The city’s chief salesperson thinks we may need to reconsider our current slogan, the “Genuine American City.” Doug Neilson, the president of the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the Bureau has asked the non-profit Spirit of Milwaukee to do a study of the slogan. “They will study what visitors and out-of-town people think of it.”

I asked Neilson, a native of San Francisco, if the slogan meant anything to him before coming to Milwaukee. “Really, no,” he says.

So do we need a new slogan? “I’m going to reserve judgment until I see what the study shows,” Neilson says. “Whether we just have to say more about what it means. Maybe it just takes some tweaking. In my mind we have to say more about what that slogan means.”

Dean Amhaus, executive director of the Spirit of Milwaukee, says the polling firm he’s hiring is asking a broad set of questions about people’s perceptions of the city and is not necessarily focusing on the city slogan. “We’ve had discussions of whether we should do that now or in a couple months.”

Certainly, the current slogan is an improvement on the old one, “A Great City on a Great Lake.” The “Genuine American City” seems to evoke beer (as in “Miller Genuine Draft”) and a sense of middle American solidity, but leaves out the city’s old world charm. “I don’t want to lose the beer and bratwurst,” says Neilson, “but it’s not the only thing Milwaukee has.”

Short Take

A recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel obituary for Nile Soik, a conservative Republican legislator from the North Shore from 1960 to 1972, emphasized his honesty, but left out a key chapter in his life. It was Soik who unwittingly gave a start to Robert Kasten’s political career. Kasten had run unsuccessfully against a Democrat in 1970, and then decided to pick off a fellow Republican in the 1972 primary for Soik’s state senate district. Kasten distributed literature claiming Soik had cost his district $5 million by supporting a tax redistribution plan. In fact, Soik had voted against the plan.

The ploy helped defeat Soik and catapulted Kasten to a political career that culminated in two terms as U.S. Senator. But Soik never forgot what Kasten did. “It was a nasty campaign that was conducted,” he told me in 1992. “Some of my supporters would never work on behalf of the Republican Party after that.”

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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