Jan. 14, 2005 Attorney Dee Dee Byas, assistant Legislature legal counsel, found herself out of a job this week, and she is not certain why.
She received a letter from Senate President Lorraine Berry dated Jan. 10, the first day of the 26th Legislature, stating her appointment was not being renewed.
Byas is one of several women who entered written complaints to, and appeared before The Senate Ethical Conduct Committee regarding sexual abuse by Sen. Usie Richards. (See "Senate Committee Meets to Discuss Harassment Claim".)
Berry wrote Byas, "As you know, your appointment as legal counsel for the 25th Legislature was termed to end with that legislative administration. I regret to advise your appointment is not being renewed."
Byas was saddened Thursday morning. "The term of my contract was with the 25th Legislature," she said, "but I am a Central Staff employee and it's sort of a given that my employment would be continued."
Though Byas stopped short of saying the termination came as a result of her testimony, she said she considered that a possibility.
Byas wrote a strong letter to The Senate Ethical Conduct Committee last October. After detailing her encounters with Richards, she said the Legislature was a "sexually hostile environment." She said when her supervisor, Yvonne Tharpes, chief Legislative counsel, asked her what resolution of the issue would be satisfactory to her, "I told her that I wanted a comprehensive training on sexual harassment to be attended by all senators and employees of the Legislature."
Byas said Thursday she has been subjected during her tenure to a "professional lack of respect for women" by some senators, while others have been civil and professional. She said her duties include drafting legislation, assisting in litigation, writing opinions, and attending Senate meetings.
It was not possible to reach Berry Thursday, as she was on St. Croix in meetings. And Tharpes said she would defer any comment to Berry.
Berry announced in the Legislature's opening session Monday that the ethics committee had written a new Senate policy regarding sexual harassment. She said she wanted it to come before the full body for consideration. A 41-page document on sexual harassment was reportedly distributed to senators and staff earlier this week.
After charges against Richards were made public, Berry sent a memo to all Legislature employees urging them to come forward with "any information regarding any incidents of sexual harassment in the Legislature," to contact her for a "confidential interview."
Berry repeatedly assured employees they need not fear retaliation. "Although information will be kept in the strictest confidence, employees should not be worried about losing their jobs, or other retaliatory actions," the memo states. It continues: "Any retaliatory action is prohibited and actions for retaliation can be brought pursuant to Title 10, V.I. Code, Chapter 7."
Byas said as of Thursday morning she had not yet spoken to Tharpes, her supervisor. "I was out sick yesterday," she said, "so I didn't get the letter until this morning." She said Tharpes was not yet in the office.
Of five letters of complaint against Richards made available to the media last December, three were written by current Legislature employees, one of whom was Byas. One of the other two is still employed by the Senate and the other was let go recently because of budget cuts by the senator who employed her, according to that senator.
Richards, through his attorney, Jeffrey Moorhead, filed a lawsuit last December in Territorial Court on St. Croix against Senate President David Jones and members of The Senate Ethical Conduct Committee, who investigated the case. In addition to his suit, which requests the judge rule the ethics committee's decision invalid, Richards also requested a temporary restraining order barring the disciplinary action against him in the meanwhile.
It is not known when the matter will be heard.
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