GALVESTON — A former deputy constable was sexually harassed by his former boss, and will receive more than $550,000 in back pay and damages from the county, a Galveston jury decided Friday.
After deliberating for about five hours, the jury of seven men and five women issued a unanimous verdict that determined Galveston County was not legally excused from responsibility for the alleged lewd behavior of former Precinct 7 Constable Pam Matranga, who was accused of forcing her breasts against James Gist and making bawdy propositions to the former deputy constable, among other things.
Gist was placed on leave by the county shortly before his resignation because of his opposition to discriminatory employment practices in the constable’s office, according to the jury’s verdict.
The county will also be required to pay about $97,000 in attorney’s fees for Anthony Griffin, who represented Gist in the trial.
In a closing statement to the jury, Griffin argued that voters made a mistake in electing Matranga, who abused her authority as an elected official to sexually harass Gist.
“It was about sex, and it was about power,” Griffin said. “The only way she could engage in such conduct is because of that badge on her blouse.”
He argued that Matranga’s behavior violated county policy as well as state civil rights laws.
Griffin said the county did not take action to correct the behavior despite “everybody in Galveston County” knowing Matranga’s reputation for making inappropriate jokes and lifting her shirt over employees’ heads.
Gist, now a sergeant in the Clear Lake Shores Police Department, 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, who lost a re-election bid in the May 2012 primary, later underwent sexual harassment training after Gist had resigned and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Attorney Barry Willey, who represented Galveston County, said in a closing statement Friday that Gist was a willing participant in the exchange of inappropriate jokes at the constable’s office.
Willey said Gist was upset when another deputy constable received a promotion he desired, and that Gist should have voiced any complaints to the county’s human resources department.
Willey argued that Gist purchased the recording device, which Gist said was confiscated before it captured any inappropriate behavior, was part of the former deputy constable’s plan to eventually sue the county.
“He didn’t want to try to stop the behavior,” Willey said. “He wanted to try to record the behavior and hit it big.”
Griffin said Matranga, in what may have been an effort to act as one “one of the boys,” crossed the line and began targeting Gist.
Matranga’s “outrageous conduct,” which included telling Gist she wanted to perform at a “chunky chicks night” at a local gentleman’s club and gyrating near the former deputy constable and asking Gist’s wife if she could give Gist oral sex, clearly would be considered sexual harassment if a man had behaved that way toward a woman, Griffin said.
“If the woman is the harasser, is it more permissible?” he asked the jury.
Griffin acknowledged the trial could be considered unusual – witness testimony included repeated references to euphemisms the former constable and her deputies used to refer to genitalia, among them “duck taco” and “duck sausage” – and said that women as well as men can be guilty of boorish, outrageous behavior.
“I guarantee you, you have never seen a case like this in your entire life,” Griffin told the jury.