Border Wars

Nearly a dozen people in the local INS office have filed sexual-harassment complaints against the agency

The way Lisa Willoughby tells it, her boss Jack Garofano crossed the line on a February morning in 1998. After the two discussed some personnel matters in Garofano's office, he stepped out for a cup of coffee. She stretched. When he returned, he allegedly stood beside her and stared at her breasts. "Goddamn, you're built," exclaimed Garofano, assistant district director for inspections in Miami's Immigration and Naturalization Service office. Willoughby says she bent over to obstruct his view. "You can't talk to me like that," she responded. "What, I can't compliment your tits?" Garofano replied. "No," Willoughby snapped. "That's sexual harassment."

The anecdote comes from a federal lawsuit Willoughby filed against INS in October 1999. Willoughby also alleges that, during the two years she worked for Garofano, he made lewd comments about her body, touched her inappropriately, showed her pornographic material, and attempted to blackmail her for sexual favors by offering promotions. And Willoughby claims deputy district director John Bulger, Garofano's supervisor and long-time friend, retaliated against her after she reported the misconduct.

Moreover the lawsuit claims Garofano subjected four of Willoughby's female co-workers to similar treatment. In the next few weeks, two of those women, who decline to be identified, plan to present their cases against INS in federal court, according to Roxanne A. Joffe, a lawyer who represents Willoughby and the two other plaintiffs.

Garofano's attorney, Loren Granoff, vehemently denies all the claims. His client didn't sexually harass or mistreat anyone, he asserts. Rather Garofano is victim of an orchestrated campaign to ruin his reputation. "When one has enough money to pay the filing fees, one can put just about anything in a complaint," Granoff snaps.

Garofano is but one of four officials at the Miami INS office who have been accused of everything from requiring that a female employee wear her hair a certain way to groping. At least nine complaints have been filed recently against the four; two additional grievances are under review. Leaders of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1458, which represents INS workers, suspect there are more. "That's only the tip of the iceberg," says one union official, who also declines to give his name because he fears retribution against the bargaining unit.

Union officials have even served INS with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information on sexual-harassment cases currently under investigation. The service has not responded to that inquiry or any of the other 83 unrelated FOIA queries the union has submitted. "They just don't want to answer, because it's detrimental to them," says the anonymous union leader. "They have the resources to block and stall," adds another unionist.

Robert Wallis, who took over as INS district director in 1996, declined comment on any specific cases. "We consider them internal matters, and we do not discuss them in public," he wrote in response to a list of faxed questions. But in general terms, he wrote: "The Immigration and Naturalization Service does not tolerate any unprofessional behavior on the part of its employees. We aggressively investigate any allegation of unprofessional conduct." New Times also left messages seeking comment for the four INS officials accused of harassment and John Bulger, whom Willoughby accuses of retaliation. Only one, Dora Jean Sanchez, returned the calls.

It seems INS leadership has paid little mind to the legacy of Anita Hill, who accused her boss (now U.S. Supreme Court Justice) Clarence Thomas of such behavior in 1991. After Hill described Thomas's inappropriate actions to Congress, sexual-harassment claims skyrocketed across the nation. Businesses began training managers to be more sensitive. Things seemed to change, at least in the private sector.

But in governmental agencies such as INS, allegations of sexual harassment were, and are, often thwarted by in-house investigative bodies, which favor the establishment. "The [INS's Equal Employment Office (EEO)] is worthless," says Susan Noe, an attorney currently representing an INS employee who filed a harassment complaint against the agency. "They limit the kind of evidence you can bring in and the cases get stuck." Noe declined to give details of the case, which has been under investigation for almost a year. She would only say that a male employee had accused his female supervisor of inappropriate behavior. (The public is not entitled to such information until the investigation is complete.)

Indeed the process that follows the filing of a grievance with INS is complicated, slow, and often discouraging. This is how it works: After an alleged victim enters a claim with the agency's EEO, investigators embark on fact-finding missions, then submit their conclusions to the Department of Justice, the INS district director, and the INS-EEO director in Washington, D.C. The aggrieved party can either request a hearing before an administrative judge, leave it up to the Department of Justice to make a finding, or file a federal lawsuit.

Often by the time a case makes it to court, the alleged perpetrator is lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. "It takes a tough person to really go through this whole thing," attorney Roxanne Joffe says. "It takes a terrible emotional toll on a person. I tell clients who come to me very depressed that they are not the exception; they're the rule."

Jack Garofano is likely familiar with the process and fallout from sexual harassment. Before transferring to the INS inspections department at Miami International Airport in 1996, he held a management position at Pearson International Airport in Toronto for thirteen years. In 1992 Playboy model Lisa Heughan claims three INS workers (Garofano was notamong them) at Pearson attempted to extort a private strip show. Heughan says the men detained her for twelve hours while they looked through copies of magazines that were in her briefcase, made references to her breasts, and told her that if she wanted to cross the border, she would have to remove her clothes. In the end INS disciplined the trio, according to the Toronto Star. Two anonymous union officials and three attorneys say Garofano's transfer to Miami was indirectly related to the scandal. Garofano's lawyer asserts his client had no involvement in the incident.

From the moment Garofano reported for duty as assistant district director for inspections at MIA, Willoughby alleges he barraged her with sexual advances and innuendo. Willoughby contends she had never before experienced such treatment and that she made it clear his affections were unwelcome. Still, according to her complaint, on several occasions Garofano suggested that submission to his advances was a condition of employment.

In the summer of 1996, Willoughby says Garofano unpacked a "blooper file," which held photocopies of immigration documents, such as passports, containing names that could be related to sex by sound or meaning. The file also held pornographic cartoons and obscene sketches of women. Other INS employees, including some top officials, supplied documents for Garofano's collection, Willoughby claims. Eventually she says the agency's Office of the Inspector General confiscated the file.

The complaint also includes the following claims: Garofano said he was in love with Willoughby and wanted to marry her. He called Willoughby at home to ask if she was in bed and what she was wearing. Once he told her he was horny and that he dreamed of having sex with her. At work he regularly referred to her as "toots," "Lisa babe," and "sweet cheeks."

At first Willoughby contends she was reluctant to report the abuse. She feared such action could damage her career and that her mother, brother, and boyfriend, all of whom worked for the service, would bear the brunt of the her superiors' response if she came forward. Finally Willoughby asserts Garofano treated other women inappropriately. She refers to an incident in which he had been stuck with a female employee in an elevator. After Garofano and the woman exited the car, he allegedly said: "If we were stuck in there much longer, it would have gotten messy." Referring to the complaints by Willoughby and the others, attorney Roxanne Joffe comments: "[These women] were touched, spoken to in a demeaning way, stared at, and glared at."

On April 15, 1998, Willoughby says she reported Garofano's actions to deputy district director John Bulger. Then, she asserts, she was stripped of her duties and reassigned. "I literally sat at an empty desk from the time I reported it to the time I was transferred to another department in August," Willoughby recalls. "My career is washed up because of this. I had to get away from him. I didn't want to leave my job, but I had to because of him."

In January INS district director Robert Wallis posted a memo announcing Garofano's move from inspections to a temporary position overseeing construction at the INS office in West Palm Beach. Garofano responded to the transfer by filing an appeal with a board that reviews personnel moves, according to attorney Loren Granoff. "We feel that at the end of the day, he will be fully exonerated based upon evidence, not innuendo," he maintains.

Garofano is not the only high-ranking INS official accused of sexual harassment. A female employee who declines to give her name says she has filed a claim against Paul Sands, a supervisory immigration inspector. The woman contends Sands forced her to wear her hair up as a condition of employment. "Females here are violated in every way," notes the woman. "I had a female inspector tell me that Paul Sands came up to her and said, 'You look great with make-up on. You look sexy.' A cleaning lady at MIA came crying to me one day, saying Sands had invited her to have sex with him."

There also is a sexual-harassment complaint against Dora Jean Sanchez, who once held an important position with the INS office at MIA, according to Richard Caldwell, a Miami attorney. Caldwell alleges Sanchez hung a whip on her office wall and sometimes remarked that she'd use it to lash employees into shape. "That's a lie," she comments. Sanchez was transferred to Dallas almost two years ago, Caldwell says. The lawyer also claims he is handling two unrelated sexual-harassment cases against the agency but refuses to give details.

Then there's Rafael Guzman, an inspector who worked for Garofano. At least four sexual-harassment complaints have been filed against him, say two union officials and three INS employees interviewed by New Times. Back in August 1998, William Congleton, a criminal investigator from INS's Office of Internal Audit, flew to Miami with his supervisor, Susan Armstrong. The investigators spoke with about 40 witnesses concerning the four EEO complaints involving Guzman.

Even enforcers seem to have helped create an atmosphere conducive to on-the-job sexual harassment, Congleton contends. He says his supervisors generally did not want allegations substantiated. "For the most part, our job is to protect management," Congleton stated to an INS review board in 1999. Indeed Congleton says he has filed a complaint against Armstrong. He argues that he was forced to sleep with her after she threatened to fire him. "They're supposed to be policing INS, but who's policing them?" asks a female employee who works at the Krome detention center.

lissette.corsa@miaminewtimes.com

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