A woman who worked at a homeless shelter run by the Boston Public Health Commission claims she was subjected to crude comments and sexual harassment by her boss for more than a year, and it’s not the first time the man has faced such accusations, a FOX Undercover investigation has found.
“I felt humiliated, degraded and it was just a very, very stressful and hostile environment to work in,” said the woman, who was interviewed on the condition her identity not be revealed.
The woman, who still works for the Boston Public Health Commission, says the sexual harassment continued even after she first reported the man to the city in 2009. She says that not only was she harassed on the job but also that she was retaliated against for complaining about it.
Now she's filed a discrimination complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against the city, saying she's coming forward to send a message to the city that sexual harassment cannot be tolerated.
“People who harass should be held accountable. And there shouldn't be a culture of silence or shame in reporting anything,” she said.
The woman worked at a shelter on Long Island under kitchen manager John Fell, who she says sexually harassed her at her job in the kitchen.
“Very direct sexual comments. About my body and what he wanted to do. So it was very, very direct comments,” she said about Fell.
Many of those comments allegedly said by Fell and detailed in her complaint are too graphic to reveal.
But the tamer ones include his allegedly saying, "What type of panties are you wearing?" and "You want me to come over and show you a good time?" and "Do you ever (have sex) just to (have sex)?” and "You're my friend. But you really have nice breasts."
The woman says she first complained about Fell to a supervisor in 2009.
“They talked to him and the comments started shortly again after that. So it almost seemed like he was untouchable. Like he would say, “I don't care if somebody writes me up. Nothing's going to happen,” she said.
The woman ended up taking a new job in which Fell became her direct supervisor.
“It was a really good job opportunity. It was more money. It was a promotion. And I thought at the time, since I was going to be part of the staff and part of the crew, at least the comments would subside,” she said.
“Did they stop?” asked FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
“No, they didn't. They got worse,” she replied.
The woman says in her complaint that Fell at one point gestured to his genitals and said, “'Come sit on Johnny!"
On another day, he “…poked her breast and walked out of the elevator….”
She complained to a supervisor again in July 2010, and afterward says Fell told her, "You're not going to be working here soon."
The woman’s attorney, Michael Tumposky, says the city should have taken the complaints more seriously when she first made them in 2009.
“Absolutely they should have taken it more seriously,” Tumposky said. “They should have disciplined him or at the very least kept a close eye on him to make sure he didn't continue with this behavior.”
“He was allowed to essentially run wild, whether it be with this case or some of the other problems that were going on,” he added.
Those other problems include information revealed in an earlier FOX Undercover investigation.
That story, from last February, showed Fell worked for the city for 16 years but was fired from his job as the shelter's kitchen manager after thousands of dollars of food and cash were stolen from the kitchen.
And Fell has faced allegations of sexual harassment before.
There's another pending case before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination filed by another woman who worked at the shelter.
And Fell was accused in a lawsuit of sexual harassment while he worked as a cook at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1990s. A gay male employee says Fell and another employee harassed him through name-calling and sexually suggestive gestures. According to court records, Fell was reprimanded for his behavior.
“Do you think the city should have known about that incident?” Beaudet asked Tumposky.
“Well, it was a long time ago. However, I know that a simple web search with his name and the name of his prior employer would have uncovered this particular incident. A phone call would have uncovered this particular incident,” Tumposky said.
The Boston Public Health Commission sent a letter to the woman before her MCAD complaint was filed acknowledging that after an internal investigation, "…it was determined that Mr. Fell did violate the Commission's Sexual Harassment Policy."
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Public Health Commission’s executive director, declined to comment on the latest allegation. But earlier this year she talked about Fell's conduct in the shelter kitchen thefts that resulted in him losing his job.
“Under his very poor leadership and poor management he allowed and tolerated and in fact I think created a culture that is unacceptable,” she said.
Fell, in a series of emails to FOX Undercover, called his accuser vindictive and says she's making the allegations because she couldn't do her job.
As for the other woman with a pending sexual harassment case against Fell, he says she lied to try and save her job.
We also asked him about the allegations of sexual harassment at MIT. Fell says it was just a joke that was taken out of context, calling it no big deal.