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Ex-Las Vegas councilman accused of sexual harassment before resigning

A week before ex-Las Vegas Councilman Steve Seroka resigned, a former aide said she met with two top city officials to report his alleged inappropriate behavior, including unwanted kissing and sexually explicit talk.

Marady Leary told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the harassment started in November following a gala in New York and persisted intermittently for nearly three months.

“I wanted his career to be over and for him to not be in a place of power where he could do this to someone else,” Leary said.

Seroka, who abruptly resigned March 4 without explanation less than halfway into his first term, did not return multiple messages seeking comment on the accusations. Two other aides who worked in his office said they were not aware of, or ever noticed, anything inappropriate.

Leary, 39, said she struggled with whether to come forward with her allegations and ultimately grew frustrated that Seroka’s resignation was still mostly presented in the news media as a mystery. She is also accusing the city of mishandling its response to the situation, including by not keeping her apprised of its investigation into her allegations.

She says the city failed to protect her as a whistleblower, ignored medical letters she submitted, never advised her to put accusations against Seroka in writing and offered her a new role not comparable to her old job when she made it clear after Seroka’s resignation that she preferred to work in a new department.

The city declined to respond to questions from the Review-Journal or to say whether the investigation was complete. In a statement, Tyler Gutierrez, a city legal records specialist, cited potential litigation and personnel matters.

Leary, who has since left her job with the city, has hired Las Vegas-based law firm Hutchison &Steffen to represent her in a lawsuit she said she is considering filing against the city and Seroka. Her attorneys said they filed a complaint July 9 with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission — a necessary step to secure the right to sue for discrimination under federal law.

Leary’s lawyers calculated damages at $400,000 but offered to settle her claims for $220,000, according to a May 20 letter purportedly from her lawyers to the city’s legal counsel that she provided the Review-Journal.

The allegations

Leary and Seroka became acquainted at Nellis Air Force Base a few years ago. Seroka is a retired colonel, and Leary was a program manager for the base’s corporate fellowship program. She was hired Aug. 20 to work in the councilman’s Ward 2 office and push forward Seroka’s veterans platform, becoming a permanent employee in early December.

On Nov. 8, Leary joined Seroka on a professional trip to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s 12th Annual Heroes Gala, held in New York at the private Classic Car Club Manhattan. The pair can be seen in two photographs posted to the event’s Flickr account.

In one, they pose together standing on a camouflage floor, the gala’s version of a red carpet. He is in a black suit with red tie; she is wearing a long red dress. In another, he faces the camera, and her back is turned as they engage an attendee near the bar.

Following dinner and the awards ceremony, Leary said, she and Seroka continued drinking at an after-party at the private club’s bar. Leary said she eventually drank well beyond her limit and recalled little else about the night except that Seroka allegedly kissed her outside the club and again while they were both naked on her hotel room bed.

Leary said she is unsure whether they had sex and that her questions to Seroka were met by his own uncertainty. She still wrestles with how to characterize that evening between the two — both are married — and has thus far arrived at only one conclusion: “It was not OK.”

Following the New York trip, Leary said, Seroka continued to act inappropriately with her at City Hall, during city functions and by phone. His actions, she said, included kisses, unwanted advances and sexually graphic comments.

But Leary underscored that Seroka never assaulted her, and she acknowledged she enjoyed his compliments early on, but his alleged behavior did cause her mental anguish and she understood that such behavior toward subordinates is inappropriate.

Seroka signed into sexual harassment training mandatory for city employees on Jan. 29, 2018, a city record shows. The basic definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome words or conduct,” according to a PowerPoint presentation of the training obtained in a public records request.

No signs of wrongdoing

When Seroka resigned, he left behind only a terse letter submitted to City Clerk LuAnn Holmes, stating he was “proud of his service” but providing no reason for stepping down. The councilman had otherwise been resolved to beat back a contentious recall effort and appeared to shrug off protracted legal disputes with a wealthy developer.

“I think everyone was surprised when he resigned,” said former Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, who served alongside Seroka.

On the morning of the day he would ultimately leave office, Seroka denied allegations of inappropriate behavior to his aide, Joe Volmar, and assured him he would not resign. Volmar said he asked Seroka to call him if anything changed. By that evening, Volmar had gotten the call.

“There was tons of rumors going around, and I just asked him if any were true, and he said, no, they weren’t true,” Volmar said.

Volmar also said he saw nothing to suggest Seroka had acted inappropriately with Leary.

Marco Henry, who worked on Seroka’s campaign and joined as a temporary staffer in the Ward 2 office last summer, intersecting with Leary frequently, said he did not recall her sharing any concerns about Seroka or notice anything untoward.

Henry and Volmar no longer work for the city. Jordan Sandecki, a former Seroka aide who remains a city employee, did not respond to questions.

An investigation

Leary said she met on Feb. 25 with Human Resources Director Dan Tarwater and Administrative Services Director Ted Olivas. At that time, she said, she had been out of the office for more than two weeks to treat her anxiety and stress. Her struggles are documented in purported letters from mental health care providers she gave to the Review-Journal.

One physician’s note she provided indicates she had reported “significant stress at work due to a possible sexual harassment situation” a month before raising concerns within the city.

After disclosing her accusations, Leary said she was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation to be handled by David Groover &Associates Inc.

The Review-Journal requested a copy of that contract but was told it did not exist. It is unclear whether the city used outside legal counsel to deal directly with the firm.

“Well, I got to tell you, I never comment on those types of investigations,” David Groover said. “Whether I do them or I don’t do them, I just can’t.”

But Leary said she was interviewed for roughly three hours by Groover and cooperated fully with the city’s investigation.

Believing evidence would need to be provided to city officials, Leary said her husband, Tom, authored a memo dated Feb. 18 to document a phone call he purportedly had with Seroka, in which he confronted the then-policymaker.

During the call, according to a copy of the memo Leary gave to the Review-Journal, Seroka vowed to be “done” with “anything inappropriate” and acknowledged being “a bit embarrassed.” Yet there is no context or reference to any specifically alleged incident of inappropriate behavior in the memo.

Seroka also indicated he would like to keep the nature of their conversation confidential and described options he said Leary was mulling upon returning to the office, ranging from resignation to working from home part time, according to the memo, which Leary said was turned over to city officials.

Five months later, it is uncertain what the city’s investigation found or even if it is completed. Leary said she and her lawyers have not been informed of its status. The scope of the probe is also unclear, including who was interviewed. Volmar said investigators did not speak with him at all, even though he was one of two special assistants who worked closest with Seroka and Leary.

“I would be the first person they should interview if they were doing a legitimate investigation,” Volmar said.

The city’s anti-harassment and nondiscrimination procedures encourage reporting any incidents perceived to cross the line, promising that human resources will either initiate or oversee a “prompt investigation.”

‘Constructive discharge’

Leary was ultimately removed from paid administrative leave May 15 as city officials requested documentation to support her return to work and vowed to engage in talks about her return, according to correspondence purportedly to her lawyers from Assistant City Attorney Morgan Davis that she gave to the Review-Journal.

She never returned to work.

Leary told the Review-Journal she did not want to return to the Ward 2 office with a “scarlet letter” in the wake of leaks about her accusations. She preferred to continue her career in another department and left the city under what her lawyers called a “constructive discharge” — resigning due to a hostile work environment.

“I think they wanted to say, no, I can’t come back,” Leary told the Review-Journal, “so they could wash their hands of me as well.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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