In December 2016, Janice Antoine was working as an aide to North Miami Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime when she was asked to take a ride with him to Doral, she says. Bien-Aime told her he needed to drop off a campaign check at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department.
On the way back, Antoine says, Bien-Aime didn't stop at North Miami City Hall or his district office as she expected. Instead, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court, he allegedly drove to the dead end of a secluded road "between warehouses and railroad tracks." By Antoine's recollection, the councilman said the spot was quiet, secluded, and private so no one could hear them. She says her boss told her that he liked the way she smelled and that he "could not resist" her that day.
Then, she says, the councilman made a gesture toward her private area and said, "I wonder if 'that' smells good too." He promised not to tell anyone if they had sex in the car that day, Antoine says.
Antoine says she refused and told her boss she was married — but she says that the harassment did not stop that day and that when she reported the incidents to City Manager Larry Spring, she was transferred out of Bien-Aime's office and forced into various other jobs. Antoine is now suing Bien-Aime for sexual harassment and assault, as well as the City of North Miami for discrimination and retaliation.
Assistants in Bien-Aime's office repeatedly told New Times the councilman was not immediately available to respond to the allegations laid out in the complaint. (New Times also sent Bien-Aime a copy of the lawsuit via email.) A spokesperson for North Miami said the city does not comment on pending legal matters.
Antoine's lawyer, Jay F. Romano, declined to comment yesterday.
Bien-Aime, a trained accountant who was first elected in 2013 to replace outgoing Councilman Jean Marcellus, briefly served as interim mayor in 2014 after then-Mayor Lucie Tondreau was arrested for her involvement in an alleged mortgage fraud scheme. Like most of Miami-Dade County's smaller municipalities, North Miami has mostly been a scandal-plagued wreck for years, especially since the tenure of ex-Mayor Andre Pierre, who somehow avoided criminal charges despite being so outwardly corrupt he went by the nickname "Uncle Andre."
After North Miami Police Officer Jonathan Aledda was charged with attempted manslaughter for shooting the unarmed Charles Kinsey in 2016, then-Chief Gary Eugene was forced out after New Times published audio that showed him providing contradictory statements to internal affairs and Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators.
Antoine's story is yet another scandal in the city's long history of malfeasance. She says that she began working as an aide in Bien-Aime's District 3 office June 6, 2016, and that it took only months before Bien-Aime began harassing her. After the alleged back-alley incident, Bien-Aime got drunk at a January 2017 Mardi Gras party and came on to her again, she says. At the event, she says, Bien-Aime stopped her on a second-floor balcony and, smelling of liquor, demanded she go home with him.
"Don't go home after Mardi Gras tonight — meet with me after Mardi Gras," he said, according to the suit.
Antoine says she then blocked his number from her work and personal
The next month, Antoine says, she reported the harassment to Deputy City Manager Arthur "Duke" Sorey, whom she says did not believe her accusations. She then went to Sorey's boss, City Manager Larry Spring, March 2, 2017. Antoine says she broke down in tears during that meeting, but Spring told her to stop crying and that he'd handle the problem.
Instead, she says, four days later, Sorey called her into his office and said she was transferred out of Bien-Aime's district to work in the city's personnel department.
The "look on Sorey's face was as if he was upset Plaintiff went over his head to the City Manager with her complaint," the suit reads.
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Months later, Antoine learned that — to her surprise — she'd been slated to be terminated at the end of September 2017. She contacted the city manager and accused Sorey of retaliating for going over his head.
Meanwhile, Bien-Aime was allegedly growing increasingly upset that Antoine was ignoring his advances. In October 2017, Antoine says, he confronted her outside a city hall stairwell and demanded to know why she had stopped speaking to him since getting transferred. Bien-Aime allegedly said he was angry that Antoine had blocked his number — she says the councilman dialed her phone while standing in front of her to prove his call went directly to voicemail.
Antoine responded that the councilman "was blocked because he keeps calling for sexual favors and her husband sees the calls because they share family mobile services," the suit reads.
The following December, Antoine was transferred again, this time to the city's information technology department. She says the switch happened only after repeated fights with the city manager, deputy city manager, and city personnel director, who, she says, were "trying to weaken Plaintiff to force her out" and get her to quit.