Attorney for V.I. Legislature: Harassment lawsuit is a 'fraud'

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ST. THOMAS - An attorney for the V.I. Legislature is claiming that a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment is based on "a carefully orchestrated fraud" and has asked for the suit to be dismissed.

However, in a counter-motion filed Friday, the Senate staffer who filed the suit said his motion to dismiss it has no legal or factual basis.

Augustin Ayala, legal counsel for the Legislature, was named as a defendant in a March 8 lawsuit in which Senate staffer Shanika Garnett claims Ayala sexually harassed her for a number of years while the Legislature failed to properly investigate her claims of misconduct.

Garnett, represented by St. Thomas attorney Karin Bentz, alleges a pattern of harassment, intimidation and retaliation that spanned five years and three Senate presidents.

Ayala countered April 29 with a motion to dismiss the lawsuit from District Court on St. Thomas for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, insufficient process and failure to state a claim.

Ayala asserts that Garnett failed to exhaust the administrative process and remedies available to her and that her case is "based on a carefully orchestrated fraud drafted carefully to resemble legitimate pleadings."

Named as defendants in the suit are Ayala; the V.I. Legislature; Pamela Richards Samuel, the former executive director of the Senate; former Senate legal counsel Trudy Fenster; and former Senate President Ronald Russell.

Bentz, on Garnett's behalf, responded Friday in opposition to Ayala's motion.

"Having trampled on Garnett's civil rights, Ayala now seeks to avoid responsibility by filing eight pages of stream-of-consciousness responses which he inaptly entitled 'motion to dismiss,' " Bentz wrote. "Ayala's motion to dismiss, however, is legally and factually baseless."

Russell, Fenster and the Legislature have yet to respond to the lawsuit, according to court records.

There were no hearings scheduled in the case as of Friday.

According to the lawsuit, current Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone hired Garnett in 2003.

Garnett claims that starting in 2007, Ayala began to engage in "hostile, demeaning and sexually abusive conduct such that Plaintiff's working conditions were significantly altered."

In his April 29 motion for dismissal, Ayala also requested a hearing to address "several very questionable documents, matters and statements" raised in Garnett's complaint.

According to Ayala's chronology of events, Garnett missed several scheduled hearings on her initial internal harassment complaint and failed to provide "any logical reason for frustrating the administrative process" of the Legislature. He argues that this, and other facts, show that Garnett acted with "a sinister and deviant objective."

Ayala claims the Legislature "painstakingly took measures to get the facts from witnesses and make recommendations" in Garnett's case. Ayala's motion claims that when Garnett "sensed that her complaint was not going to meet the standard required for a sexual harassment complaint, she began alternative pursuits to render the Legislature's investigation moot."

Ayala contends that Garnett intentionally avoided the Legislature's hearings about her complaint while waiting to see whether the U.S. Attorney's Office was going to bring a case based on her allegations.

The fact that the complaint was not prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney was "the green light" for Garnett to file the civil suit against Ayala and the Legislature, Ayala states.

Ayala also claims that Garnett made demands of the investigator and requested copies of witness statements before the investigation was complete.

According to Ayala's motion, Garnett at certain junctures "quarreled, traduced and was loud and boisterous" to the investigator, and Ayala describes Garnett as throwing a "tantrum."

"The investigator felt threatened and became frightened for her safety," Ayala wrote.

The investigator, "based on fear and to avoid any more confrontations" with Garnett, turned the case file over to the executive director of the Legislature.

Eventually, Garnett asked to be transferred to St. Croix and "given an apology in exchange for a final resolution of her complaint," according to Ayala.

Garnett was transferred and Ayala agreed to provide an apology "and this matter was resolved," Ayala wrote.

Her lawsuit does not honor that agreement and violates the entire administrative process of the Legislature, Ayala wrote.

- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email

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