A former employee of the Public Defender’s Office is suing for sexual harassment and discrimination after she was fired last year.
Tiffany Ice is suing Public Defender Matt Shirk and his former chief of staff, Ron Mallett.
Her allegations include Shirk sending her inappropriate text messages; the public defender’s wife angrily confronting her at work, accusing her of having a relationship with Shirk; and being terminated by Mallett shortly after that visit.
Damon Kitchen, an attorney representing Shirk, said in a statement his client denies Ice’s claims of wrongdoing and discrimination.
“But, he (Shirk) believes in our country’s legal system and institutions and has faith that they will fully vindicate him,” the statement said.
Mallett did not return a message left on his voicemail at his heating and air-conditioning company. He left Shirk’s office after the allegations became public last year.
Ice said one of the text messages from Shirk was an invitation to join him in the shower in his office.
The lawsuit also said Shirk sent Ice an electronic greeting card with a man and woman, with a caption that read: “I think if we had sex there would be very minimal awkwardness afterwards.”
Ice declined what she believed were sexual advances by Shirk.
According to the lawsuit, on June 12, 2013, Shirk’s wife, Michelle, accused Ice on the phone of having a sexual relationship with the public defender. Michelle Shirk told Ice that relationship “was over.”
The next day, the lawsuit said, Michelle Shirk confronted Ice at the office and laid out three options: Ice could gather her belongings and leave the office; she could resign and give two weeks’ notice; or she could prepare to be fired.
The lawsuit said Ice told Mallett about the ”harassing behavior” from Michelle Shirk. She later filed for divorce from Matt Shirk.
Ice was quickly reassigned to another job in the Public Defender’s Office. About 10 days later, Mallett told Ice he heard she was having trouble with her new job, including making mistakes. Ice said she told Mallett she was doing her job well.
The next day, Mallett fired Ice, citing poor job performance.
The lawsuit accuses Shirk and Mallett of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Shirk faces additional allegations of libel and hostile work environment..
Last year, two investigators in Shirk’s office resigned after Ice and two other women were fired. The investigators were upset about the terminations, saying the women were unfairly let go.
Gov. Rick Scott appointed Gainesville state attorney Bill Cervone to investigate Shirk’s office, including the terminations and potential violations of public records laws. Cervone’s investigation is still underway.