Metro has agreed to pay more than $100,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim against a top manager accused of trying to kiss and grope a female worker in his department, The Washington Times has learned.
According to sources close to Metro’s board and top officials, a female worker filed a detailed complaint with Metro’s civil rights office against Panagiotis T. “Takis” Salpeas, assistant general manager of transit system development, about six months ago.
Last year, Mr. Salpeas came under fire from Metro’s board of directors after The Times reported he had hired a consultant under a $100,000 contract that ballooned to more than $330,000 without the board’s knowledge.
A settlement with the worker, Kim Hazel, was reached April 25, but Metro attorneys did not sign the agreement until yesterday, one source said. Cynthia Myers, director of the civil rights office, and Metro attorneys determined after an investigation it would be better to settle than go to trial, sources said.
“I cannot tell you anything because it’s a personnel matter and is being handled by the general counsel,” Mr. Salpeas said. According to one high-ranking official, Mr. Salpeas has vehemently denied the facts of the complaint, saying “they are all lies.”
Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann said he could not comment because it is a personnel matter.
According to sources, Miss Hazel kept a detailed log of the harassment, which she said occurred between mid to late 1999. She worked as a manager of agreements and compliance in the administration office of Mr. Salpeas’ department, earning about $110,000 a year. She was later promoted to acting director of the office.
Miss Hazel was passed over for the permanent position after rebuffing Mr. Salpeas’ advances and was replaced by Nancy Grezik, sources said.
“She said she didn’t know how to handle it,” one source said. “She had been led to believe she could have a really good, successful career. But after rebuffing his advance, she felt that she was passed over for promotions … and that she was being punished.”
Miss Hazel accused Mr. Salpeas of trying to make passes at her, either by trying to kiss her or reach for her private areas, according to sources who have read the investigation reports. “These were not just some off-color remarks,” said one source familiar with the matter.
One specific account notes that Mr. Salpeas drove her to a Metro stop where her car was parked and tried to kiss and grab her in “inappropriate places.”
Another notes that she went to Mr. Salpeas’ Northern Virginia home when his wife and children weren’t there, thinking she was meeting him on official business. When she got there, Mr. Salpeas poured two glasses of wine and again made passes at her, which she rebuffed.
The settlement requires that Metro pay Miss Hazel $100,000 to $150,000 and that neither she nor Mr. Salpeas talk to the press or anyone else about the deal. As part of the settlement, Miss Hazel is supposed to resign from Metro by Jan. 1, a source said.
Miss Hazel did not return a call seeking comment.
Metro General Manger Richard A. White would have to approve any payment over $100,000, an attorney for the transit agency said, adding that General Counsel Cheryl C. Burke is authorized to negotiate settlements up to $100,000.
Ms. Burke, who said she could not discuss any specific case, said it is “standard practice” for Metro to settle harassment claims because “it is the employer that is responsible, not the employee.” She said Metro, in general, has paid more than $100,000 to settle a harassment case.
Some Metro board members have been briefed on the matter. Board Chairman Decatur W. “Bucky” Trotter declined to comment, saying that even if he were privy to information about the settlement, he and other board members are “kind of sworn to secrecy.”
Metro would have to defend Mr. Salpeas, something board members privately said they do not like to do. There has been talk of asking Mr. Salpeas to resign, one source said, because “of problems he has caused for” Metro.
“The same rules should apply to Takis as they do for everyone else. I can’t believe they are spending the public’s money this way,” said an employee close to the situation.
The Times reported in January 2000 that Mr. Salpeas hired part-time consultant William H. “Ray” Lytle in September 1999 under a $100,000 contract that quickly grew to more than $330,000 without the board’s knowledge. Mr. White ended the Lytle contract after The Times’ inquiries.
Jim Keary contributed to this report.