Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Ryan McKinnon | October 5, 2021
The Sarasota County School Board has reached a $400,000 settlement with school district program specialist Lyna Jimenez-Ruiz, who alleged former Superintendent Todd Bowden sexually harassed her and retaliated against her when she complained.
The settlement, which the board approved on Sept. 21, brings a more than six-year saga to an end.
Jimenez-Ruiz made her initial complaint in 2015, alleging that Bowden made multiple inappropriate comments to her when he was her direct supervisor at Suncoast Technical College.
She said that in July 2015, Bowden made sexual advances to her while they were at a work conference. She said she rebuffed him, and alleged he retaliated by writing negative job performance evaluations, demoting her from her position as assistant director at the technical college to assistant principal at Booker High School, and later not renewing her contract there.
The settlement means Jimenez-Ruiz is dropping all allegations against the district.
Jimenez-Ruiz did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.
Bowden maintained that he is innocent of the allegations.
“What I can say, without hesitation, is that I neither harassed nor retaliated against Dr. Ruiz, which has been confirmed by not one but two separate independent investigations,” Bowden said.
Ruiz had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017 that was ultimately dismissed as “inconclusive,” and she filed a lawsuit in 2018 alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and racial discrimination.
In January 2020 a judge ruled that her harassment and retaliation claims warranted a jury trial, while dismissing her claims of racial discrimination. School Board attorney Dan DeLeo said the trial had been delayed due to COVID-19.
Investigations into matter in 2018 by the EEOC and by outside law firms both before and after Bowden was hired did not determine that there was proof that the superintendent harassed Jimenez-Ruiz and retaliated against her.
Bowden’s tenure as superintendent was bookended by complaints of alleged sexual harassment. In November 2016 Jimenez-Ruiz and two other women spoke at a School Board meeting when Bowden was a finalist for the top Sarasota administrator’s job, urging the School Board not to hire him.
Three years later, Bowden left the district following controversy over his handling of sexual harassment allegations against former Chief Operations Officer Jeff Maultsby.
Jimenez-Ruiz accepted the settlement on Sept. 12, and the School Board approved the settlement at its Sept. 21 meeting.
“We were wanting to put it behind us and stop the legal costs,” board chairwoman Shirley Brown said.