Second lawsuit filed against former county supervisor

EDINBURG — A former Hidalgo County supervisor previously accused of sexually harassing an employee is facing similar charges in yet another federal lawsuit filed last month.

Elena Leal, a permit clerk at the Health and Human Services Department, filed the lawsuit against her former supervisor, Elizardo “Chardo” Ramos, and Hidalgo County.

The suit was filed with the intention to “correct unlawful employment practices … and other unlawful retaliatory actions” taken against Leal by Ramos and other county officials. It alleges county officials, including Chief Administrative Officer Eddie Olivarez, failed to take action against Ramos and instead fostered a hostile environment that allowed such behavior to continue.

Ramos could not be reached for comment and Olivares declined to comment on the pending litigation.

This is the second time Ramos faces similar accusations. Earlier this year, county employee Nora Gonzalez also filed a federal lawsuit against Ramos, alleging he had been harassing her since 2005, when Ramos was promoted to oversee her position.

Leal, who began working with the county about a decade ago, also indicated Ramos had been harassing her for years, specifically since 2009, when she transferred to his department.

As supervisor, Ramos “exercised a lot of power and discretion over the work lives of the clerks,” the lawsuit stated.

“Once Elena started working in the health department, it did not take long for Ramos to intimidate and harass her and other female employees under his department,” the document states. “Throughout the years, Ramos violated Elena’s personal space and personal dignity by standing close to her when talking, inappropriately rubbing her shoulders without consent while standing behind her as she sat and worked, joking and chiding her about ‘going out’ with him, and inappropriately touching her neck and legs during meetings or when the two were alone.”

Ramos cornered her at least twice against the wall and pushed himself onto her when they were alone and not in the company of other men, Leal alleged.

In addition, Ramos is accused of making lewd comments about his female clerks to customers, often referring to them as his prostitutes.

“He liked to remark directly to the customers that they should feel free to ‘take them (Elena and other female clerks) out and bring them back when you’re done’ and that ‘I am the pimp here,’” the suit alleges.

In June 2016, Ramos allegedly cornered Leal once more and kissed her “full on the lips without her consent” while they were in a meeting room alone. Another employee walked in and witnessed the incident, prompting Ramos to walk out.

That same month, a position for a health inspector opened up in the department, and when Ramos found out Leal was interested in the job, he allegedly encouraged her to refrain from applying.

“You’re not going to get it anyways,” Ramos allegedly told her.

The lawsuit names another woman who was hired for the health inspector position and alleges that employee was not qualified to process permits. In addition, Leal was tasked with training the new hire.

During that time, Ramos and Olivarez began transferring employees out of the main building.

“Included in the transfers were other female clerks toward whom Ramos had made advances, as well as the male employee who had caught Ramos kissing Elena without her consent that summer,” the document states. “Elena was not transferred to a separate location permanently, but between August 2016 and March 2017, she was rotated several times without warning.”

It’s argued that Leal was given extra responsibilities without warning or extra pay, left behind on important training days and was forced to answer phones and take care of clients while others went to lunch.

Shortly after the allegations of sexual harassment were first reported, Ramos left his position in March, the suit states. It also alleges Olivarez did little to deal with the alleged harassment.

An initial hearing for the case has been set for Nov. 8.

nlopez@themonitor.com