Since the #MeToo movement started last fall, local, state and federal employment offices have reported an increase in calls from people filing sexual harassment complaints. The NBC 6 Investigators found a formal complaint can take more than a year to be investigated and more than half of the complaints filed are thrown out for lack of evidence.
Florida has the third highest number of sexual harassment complaints with 688 filed last year.
The state ranks just behind Texas and New York, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Of those complaints, 56 percent were found to not have enough evidence and were tossed out.
The process to file a complaint can be complicated.
If someone feels they’re a victim of harassment, they are encouraged to file a formal complaint with a local, state or federal employment agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency then investigates to determine if there’s enough evidence to take action against the employer or for the complainant to take legal action.
That’s what former corrections officer Precious Dennis did.
She filed a complaint against her employer three years ago and she’s still involved in the case now.
“I would like to see justice for what happened, I was wrongfully terminated,” said Dennis, who was fired from her job at the Everglades Correctional Institution.
Dennis filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections in 2015 claiming she was sexually harassed then retaliated against for making a complaint.
Dennis claimed her supervisor called her names like “babe, baby, sweetheart and honey” on a daily basis. She also claimed her supervisor invaded her personal space.
“I could feel his breath on the top of my lip,” she said. “It’s not like it happened one time and that’s it, that’s every time I’m on shift and by myself in my office or station.”
Dennis says she filed an internal complaint about his behavior and that’s when she says her problems escalated.
Soon after, she was written up for wearing false eyelashes at work – something she denies doing.
A few months later she was terminated before her year-long probation period ended.
She believes it was in retaliation for speaking out.
“It makes you feel like men with higher power feel like they can do something and it’s ok, “ said Dennis.
The Florida Department of Corrections told NBC 6 they can’t talk about current court cases.
But they released a statement saying, “The Department has absolutely zero tolerance for sexual harassment of any kind.”
The Department of Corrections filed a motion asking the court to throw out the case, saying Dennis failed to prove her allegations.
They also stated that calling someone names like “baby” doesn’t create a hostile work environment and said Dennis can’t prove she was retaliated against for filing a complaint.
That motion is hasn’t yet been decided, and the lawsuit is working its way through the legal system.
The State of Florida has spent more than $11 million to settle sexual harassment cases over the past three decades. More than half of those cases involved the Department of Corrections which is the state’s largest agency.