By Trevor Bach
By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
After two years of litigation, Sunnie Ewing and Gladys Rickey's lawsuit against Florida International University came to an unspectacular end on May 19. The two women, who alleged that an assistant athletic director sexually harassed them, dropped their case and accepted a $50,000 settlement.
The Miami Herald reported this story May 20 with a six-inch-long snippet buried below the fold on page 3B. "They feel wonderful, they're elated," attorney Roberta Fox told the Herald, referring to her clients Ewing, a former FIU assistant sports information director, and Rickey, a secretary. "What was important to them was that they filed a complaint with the university and nothing happened. No one ever said to them, 'We're sorry.' Now they feel vindicated." The article gives no indication why a mere $50,000 would deliver such a sense of vindication.
The Herald also quoted the alleged harasser. "I am glad that it is over, because I left FIU three years ago and these women have been falsely accusing me for three years," he said.
This man's name is Pedro F. Fonteboa and since January 1997 he has covered high school sports full-time for the Herald. Fonteboa also wrote for the newspaper as a freelancer for ten years before that. Although the Herald identified Fonteboa as a staffer, one crucial document was not mentioned in the paper's account: a nearly complete June 1996 investigation report that states unequivocally that Fonteboa, through more than a year of leering and lewd comments, sexually harassed women in the FIU athletics department, including a student.
FIU appears to have done its best to ensure this report never saw the light of day. University vice president Paul Gallagher asserted under oath that there was no final report and that the university had dropped the matter when Fonteboa left in September 1996. In an agreement Fonteboa negotiated with the university when he resigned, FIU bought out his contract for $25,000. The school also promised that "no report will be issued concerning the allegations filed with the Office of Equal Opportunity," a reference to the complaints brought by Ewing, Rickey, and five other women in the FIU athletics department.
Fox found the all-but-completed report tucked away in the personnel file of former assistant vice president Toni Margulies-Eisner. On May 19, 1999, the day after the report was entered into evidence, Ewing and Rickey accepted the university's settlement offer. Although Fox referred to Eisner's report in a press release on the settlement, the Herald decided not to share news of its existence with readers.
Eisner died of cancer in February 1998. Her 1996 report concludes that "Mr. Fonteboa's behavior did create an ongoing, pervasive hostile work environment for a number of women in the Department of Athletics," and recommended that "Mr. Fonteboa be suspended without pay." The period of suspension was left blank.
The lowlights of Eisner's report:
*Julie Durstine, a secretary, complained that "on more than one occasion, Mr. Fonteboa made inappropriate comments to her, such as suggesting that they should go out and have a few drinks and that he liked her body."
*Ewing said whenever Fonteboa talked to her, he either looked her up and down or stared at her breasts. Once Fonteboa came into her office, and "after telling her how good she looked, he told her that if he was available he might have to pursue her," Eisner wrote. "When she told him that he is married, he said that he might not be for much longer, and he was looking for a way to tell his wife that it was over."
*Sue-Moy Chin, an assistant women's soccer coach, told Eisner that, beginning when she was an undergraduate student and an All-American goalie on the the university's soccer team, she often caught Fonteboa "checking her out," and that he repeatedly commented on her beauty. "On one occasion Ms. Chin ran into Mr. Fonteboa on the upstairs track in the [Golden Panther] Arena. He told her that she is about the same age as his wife, and that if he didn't have a wife, he'd like to take her out."
*Receptionist Rickey described the time Subrageous Subs donated a four-foot sub to the athletics department. After secretary Yolanda Parga remarked on "how long and pretty the sandwich was," Fonteboa muttered a few words. Parga later told Rickey that Fonteboa had said "he had something long and pretty that she could take a picture of, and it was not the sandwich to which he was referring." (When questioned by Eisner, Parga did not recall the incident.)
*Parga did remember Fonteboa commenting on a print of Rickey's wedding portrait. His assessment of the blushing bride, according to Parga: "She's well stacked."
After cataloguing the allegations of seven women, Eisner described interviews with "all of the salaried female staff and some of the [part-time] female staff in Intercollegiate Athletics" as well as several administrators. Women who worked closely with Fonteboa and the complainants "were aware of the discomfort of others and/or described behavior which they believed was sexually discriminatory," Eisner wrote.
Fonteboa defended himself both in writing and in interviews with Eisner. He characterized the accusations as false and asserted the women's harassment charges were in retaliation for whistleblower complaints he had filed against his boss, then-athletic director Ted A. Aceto. Fonteboa also alleged that Ewing's motivation for complaining was her romantic attachment to Aceto's son Ted, an assistant athletic director. Ewing denied (and still denies) any such relationship with Ted Jr.