The Alexandria City Council voted yesterday to pay legal fees for a city employe who is being sued by former Human Rights Administrator Stephen M. Levinson after she filed sexual harrassment charges against him.
"The suit appears on its face to be simply in reprisal for Ms. Sharon R. Johnston's proper complaint to city officials of sexual harrassment by Mr. Levinson," said Mayor James P. Moran, reading a statement on behalf of the council members.
Levinson filed suit in Alexandria Circuit Court last week against Johnston, his former secretary, charging that she made false accusations of sexual harrassment against him before he was fired last month.
City Manager Vola Lawson has said that Levinson was dismissed because of several "charges of improper actions" that spanned his five-year tenure as the official in charge of ensuring that city employes are not discriminated against because of race, sex or religion.
The council voted to hire legal counsel for Johnston after discussing the issue with attorneys yesterday, Moran said. The council also authorized Lawson to take "other action deemed necessary to protect the integrity of the city's policy against sexual harrassment and to protect those who have acted in good faith in reporting improper conduct of city officials."
Levinson has said that he was harrassed and discriminated against by Lawson and other city officials because they were biased politically against him. He filed a formal complaint against the city last month with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"We believe Mr. Levinson's suit against Ms. Johnston is meritless, and is being orchestrated deliberately to divert attention from the serious misconduct with which he has been charged," Moran said. "As difficult and costly as Mr. Levinson and his attorney may seek to make it, the city intends to honor its commitment to restore and maintain the integrity of the Office of Human Rights."
In addition to the allegations involving Johnston, city officials alleged that Levinson in 1981 kissed a female employe and had paid a man dressed as a woman $30 to perform a sex act on him in his office. They also charge that in 1984 Levinson kissed a city job applicant, and used his position to ask a job applicant for a date.
Levinson, who was paid $42,000 in his position with the city, has denied all the allegations. In his complaint to the federal commission, he said that if a female administrator had committed some of the same acts for which he was accused, she would not have been fired.