Rick Beasley, a stocky, middle-aged man with a bushy handlebar mustache, stood at the head of an oval table on the fifth floor of a building in Doral. Nine nattily dressed managers filed into the windowless private conference room. After Linda Pierre, a petite 29-year-old, took a seat four feet from him, he began rattling off agenda items.
When Beasley misspoke, incorrectly labeling an item for discussion, Pierre says she raised her hand to correct him. Then, she contends, he twisted his face in a scowl and shouted, "Oh, you irritate me," before reaching for the stapler resting beside him and slamming it onto the table. Pierre recalls that it made a loud, crashing noise and bounced up before landing on the carpet. "Get out! Get out!" she says he yelled at her.
"I ran out of the room in tears," Pierre says. "It was very scary. That was the first time he was ever aggressive with me."
That was December 2007. Beasley and Pierre worked at CareerSource South Florida, a public agency that uses $70 million in state and federal funds to find employment for local job seekers. Over the next seven years, Pierre would meet seven other female employees who experienced similar incidents. Their stories of Beasley were strikingly similar to Pierre's. There was yelling, the silent treatment, being passed over for promotions, and being forced to move to different desks. The group came to call themselves the Workforce-8. Though numerous county agencies ignored their claims, this past July and August, the federal government concluded the eight had been "subjected to the same pattern of harassment, intimidation, exclusion, bullying... conditions due to their sex."
Beasley wouldn't discuss the claims in detail but said he treats all of his many employees fairly. "These women are going after me," he said, "and I find it underhanded."
Helena Pivarnik, a 63-year-old placement facilitator who worked under Beasley for nine years, is one of the Workforce-8. She says that in 2011, Beasley chased her after an argument. "He put his finger so close to my nose [that] if I had moved forward, just by a step... he could be accused of assault," she says. She was fired seven months later.
Pivarnik appealed her termination to the Director of Workforce Services in Tallahassee. "Mr. Beasley is categorically an office bully," she wrote. "There is a pattern of intimidating educated, strong women with excellent employment histories to resign or transfer to other areas." But she says no one followed up with her.
Olivia, a four-year employee who declined to give her last name for fear of retribution, claims Beasley aggressively drove behind her in the parking lot one day when she was late for work. This caused her to almost lose control of her car, she contends. She also claims he denied her time off to attend the funeral of her best friend and teased her about her weight gain, according to a letter sent to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Last year, she filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that is still under investigation.
"Beasley would tell Olivia that he could pull the trigger on her at any time and threatened to 'ride you so hard that you'll quit because you will not be able to handle the pressure,'?'' according to the letter from Olivia's attorney, Anthony Falzon. "Beasley even boasted that he was 'strapped' [armed] at all times. On more than one occasion, Beasley would reduce Olivia to tears especially if she tried to stand up to his torrent of abuse, telling her on one occasion through gritted teeth: 'Never raise your fucking voice to me.'?"
Olivia says she began losing sleep, her hair fell out, and she saw a therapist about anxiety attacks. "He would berate me and other female employees in front of our colleagues for no apparent reason other than that he believed women to be inferior in all respects," she says.
The stress from working under Beasley was so intense that another woman, who declined to be identified, called a suicide hotline from her desk. She says she stopped being invited to managers' meetings and was being pressured to resign. "I have two beautiful children," says the middle-aged woman, who has a PhD in education. "I'd never do something like that. I was at the end of my rope and didn't know what else to do."
She was fired the next day, and security barred her from collecting her belongings upstairs, she says. In a complaint filed with the State of Florida's Office of Chief Inspector General, she alleges the torment began after she reported her supervisor — not Beasley — to human resources for running a therapy business from her desk. The complaint was also forwarded to state and county offices, but she says she never heard back.
In 2010, Lori Howard, a middle-aged former director at CareerSource South Florida, also filed a complaint. She said Beasley would threaten and harass her daily. "I literally pray each day to get through it," she wrote to a county board. "He goes into rages and says degrading and intimidating things such as 'I'm going to write you out of the budget' or 'You need to kiss my ass' or 'When I see a woman without stockings, I wonder what they did for lunch.' It was very degrading."
Howard didn't hear back for two years. On June 21, 2012, after interviewing Beasley and four others, investigators ruled there wasn't enough information to establish an unlawful-harassment claim: "There is no reasonable cause to believe that the South Florida Workforce has engaged in any unfair employment practices."
The finding didn't deter Pierre. After hearing such stories from other women in the office, she wasn't surprised to receive negative evaluations and even disciplinary actions. Whereas some of the women resigned or took early retirement, Pierre says she was determined to fight: "I wasn't just going to sit at home and let this happen to me."
In 2010, Pierre complained to the county's fair employment office. She didn't hear back for a few months, so she complained to the federal EEOC. When there was no immediate response, she lost patience and filed two more complaints with the county human resources office that year.
The investigation would take years. In April 2012, the county's fair employment office finally ruled there was "no reasonable cause" to believe Pierre's claims — just as it had ruled in Howard's case.
That trend continued in August 2012, when the EEOC closed Pierre's case, saying investigators couldn't corroborate her claims but that she could sue. According to a letter sent to Pierre, Beasley "denies that you were discriminated against" and "maintains that he made his decisions on workstation assignment based on operation needs, efficiency in workflow, space, and related consideration."
"I thought that I was crazy," Pierre says. "I thought I was imagining the abuse."
According to her county personnel file, her work performance had been marked overall as "satisfactory" until 2011. Then, in 2012, her supervisor, Juan Hernandez (who didn't return a call seeking comment), submitted evaluations stating Pierre had been "ineffective, incompetent, and negligent." He said she didn't review her work for errors and ruined the relationship the agency had with job contractors. Pierre submitted two rebuttals of more than 100 pages, but it wasn't enough — she was suspended without pay for two weeks. "How do I go from an excellent employee to one who needs improvement in two months?" Pierre says. "I wasn't just going to back down."
In November 2013, Pierre testified in front of a county appeals panel to protest the negative evaluations and unpaid suspension. The panel found in Pierre's favor and ordered CareerSource South Florida to give her $1,512 in back pay.
An arbitrator in Sarasota who later reviewed the case decided that Hernandez, who works for Beasley, did not have "sufficient justification" to issue a negative evaluation and found his claim that Pierre was incompetent to be "not credible... nothing more than an exaggeration, if not pure fabrication... This incident is another illustration of the County's transparent attempt to exaggerate and distort the facts to justify this clearly unwarranted disciplinary action."
But Hernandez continued with the negative evaluations, and in August 2014, Pierre was fired. This past July, however, after interviewing other women in the office, the EEOC determined that "Juan Hernandez, Supervisor, and Mr. Rick Beasley, Director, demoted [Pierre as] retaliation for complaining about... harassment... Testimonial evidence reveals a pattern of abusive language, bullying, and intimidation against the female employees at the hand of Mr. Rick Beasley."
Says Pierre: "It felt like a load was taken off my back. Finally, someone is listening to me."
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Now Pierre is in mediation with the county. An EEOC investigation is pending in Olivia's case.
The claims and findings haven't hindered Beasley. This past May, he flew to Las Vegas for a conference where he was praised for increasing efficiency. A month later, he addressed mayors from across the nation at a San Francisco conference on workforce development. And in late September, he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he moderated a panel about partnerships between workforce boards and colleges.
Beasley phoned New Times twice about the claims. The first time, he said, "We run a good, clean board," then added, "The lawyer said I shouldn't comment." A week later, after the first part of this series was published, he called again simply to say, "I appreciate the opportunity to comment but defer to my attorneys." His attorneys declined to discuss the case.