GALVESTON — A former Galveston County constable accused of sexually harassing a former deputy denied the allegations and testified in court Thursday that bawdy language was regularly used by employees of the constable’s office.
Former Precinct 7 Constable Pam Matranga said pranks and jokes of a sexual nature were common at law enforcement agencies, and the constable’s office was no exception.
For a woman to succeed in a profession often dominated by men, it’s important to hold one’s own, Matranga said.
“This is how it is in the police world,” she said. “If you want to survive, you have to toughen your skin.”
Matranga, who has been accused of inviting former deputy James Gist to “help yourself to some duck taco” when he bent down to pick up a dropped pen near the constable, said no one in the office ever indicated that the jokes or humorous behavior were unwelcome.
Gist’s sexual harassment lawsuit against the county argues that he was the target of repeated advances from Matranga, and was “shirted” when he said Matranga lifted her shirt over his head and forced her breasts against him.
A jury of seven men and five women will decide whether Gist, now a sergeant in the Clear Lake Shores Police Department, is entitled to monetary damages for the alleged harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation.
Matranga, who lost a re-election bid in the May 2012 primary, and the Precinct 7 Constable’s Office were originally named as defendants in the lawsuit filed against the county, but have since been dismissed.
The county retaliated against Gist’s allegations, and through “officers, managing agents and its supervisors,” allowed the harassment to occur, according to the lawsuit.
Gist resigned from the constable’s office in 2011 after the district attorney’s office launched a criminal investigation into a video camera Gist said he purchased to record the alleged sexual harassment, although he was never indicted or charged.
Matranga later underwent sexual harassment training after Gist had resigned and also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Several former county employees testified Thursday that the constable and deputies of Precinct 7 circa 2011, when most of the alleged harassment is said to have occurred, appeared to be a “tight-knit” group who seemed comfortable making what could be considered inappropriate jokes with each other.
Christina Webster, a former deputy constable in Precinct 7, said she never saw Matranga make sexual advances toward employees.
Webster said Matranga would jokingly threaten to “shirt” employees, or lift up her shirt over a deputy’s head.
Webster said Gist was upset when she was promoted to acting deputy chief.
Joyce Davis, a longtime friend of Matranga’s who said she regularly accompanied employees of the constable’s office to lunch and conferences, said the office was comfortable with crude humor.
She said Gist once put on a dress belonging to Matranga while the deputies were at a conference in San Antonio — she said Matranga had lent the dress to Gist’s wife — and wore it at the deputies’ hotel as a joke.
Employees of the Precinct 7 Constable’s Office were open with each other, and the subject of “shirting” was a joke among the deputies, Davis said.
“None of us had any secrets,” Davis said. “We were like family.”
Closing arguments in the trial are set for today in Galveston’s 122nd District Court.