Fitchburg mayor sanctioned for sexual harassment in 2007 in village of Oregon

February 16, 2019 GMT

A month and a half before he faces re-election, Fitchburg Mayor Jason Gonzalez is apologizing after records surfaced showing he was disciplined for workplace sexual harassment nearly 12 years ago.

Records from the village of Oregon Area Fire/EMS District show Gonzalez received a 30-day suspension and was ordered to review a sexual harassment training video and apologize to the victim.

According to a July 31, 2007, memo from Oregon’s then-fire chief, Gonzalez and two co-workers “made unwelcome phone calls to another” co-worker.

“The phone calls were made late at night and during these phone calls sexual (sic) explicit questions were asked of the (co-worker) who had received the phone call,” the memo says.

Another memo shows that on Oct. 22, 2007, after he’d returned from the suspension, Gonzalez received a verbal warning for not showing up for assigned shifts and not letting a supervisor know he would miss the shifts, and for the alleged unauthorized use of a manager’s password to change shift information in a department computer program.

The memo says that if he were late or missed a shift in the next six months, he would be fired as a paid, on-call employee of the department.

The Capital Times was the first to report on the records Friday.

In a statement, Gonzalez said that “as a volunteer/paid-on-call EMT serving the Oregon Area Fire & EMS District more than a decade ago in 2007, I made mistakes. At the time of those mistakes, as a 23-year-old, I took responsibility for my actions, did what I could right away to rectify them with the people most affected, and fully complied with the department’s disciplinary decisions.”

He said he did not make the harassing phone calls “but I did not stop them” and called missing the shifts without notifying a supervisor “inexcusable.”

Gonzalez, mayor since 2017, faces City Council member Aaron Richardson in the April 2 election.

Last year, the state Supreme Court publicly reprimanded Gonzalez, a criminal defense attorney, for committing five counts of professional misconduct involving two former clients and ordered him to pay $9,733, the cost of the disciplinary proceeding.

A state Office of Lawyer Regulation referee found that Gonzalez had failed to communicate and lied to one client, made a statement that was not credible to explain his failure to complete a court filing in another case, and made misstatements or misrepresentations to OLR. The cases he was disciplined for were from 2013.

Asked whether Gonzalez’s past work-related disciplinary issues should be a factor in the mayor’s race, Richardson said “everybody makes mistakes” but Gonzalez’s failure to show up for work in Oregon and his alleged computer tampering “speaks to a possible pattern of behavior.”

He said he wants to bring more “professionalism” to the mayor’s office and that to him, there’s only one person in the race who is right for the office, and “to me it’s not someone who has gotten in a lot of trouble and had a lot of headlines in the paper about negative stuff.”

Oregon records show a Madison social justice activist who has been critical of Gonzalez in the past, Amelia Royko Maurer, requested his personnel records from the village on Jan. 25, 2018.

In a post to the Facebook group Fitchburg Politics on Friday, Royko Maurer said, “Jason has a well-documented pattern of ethical lapses” in “professions that serve people in their most vulnerable states.”

Gonzalez and, to a lesser extent, the Fitchburg City Council were the target of a vocal public and social media lobbying campaign by the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County and its allies in 2017 after Gonzalez proposed ending noncompetitive annual grants to the club and other nonprofits. The City Council ultimately approved the proposal but began a competitive grant process open to nonprofits generally.

Gonzalez later was the target of a brief and failed attempt to recall him from office.