A sexual-harassment investigation into the alleged behavior of a Hartford City Council aide earlier this year ended in a recommendation by the city’s top lawyer that the aide be fired. Months later, the employee in question remains employed by the city, alongside the man who accused her.
Kenneth Blue, a supervisor for the city’s Department of Public Works, accused Kelly Kirkley-Bey of inappropriate physical contact in February, including an unsolicited hug, attempts to kiss him and a smack on his buttocks, as reflected in internal city documents obtained by The Courant this week.
After an investigation, Howard Rifkin, the city’s corporation counsel, called for the “immediate termination” of Kirkley-Bey due to “the egregious nature of this misconduct,” according to a letter sent to Clarke.
That letter was hand-delivered to Council President Thomas “TJ” Clarke II in June. Kirkley-Bey, the appointed aide of Councilwoman Jo Winch, remains employed by the city.
Clarke declined to comment when asked by The Courant about the incident and Kirkley-Bey’s continued employment, referring all questions to the office of the corporation counsel.
Rifkin, in a statement, said the investigation was conducted in response to “a series of troubling events” between the two employees, and said appropriate personnel action was taken with respect to Blue.
As for Kirkley-Bey, he said “the decision about what disciplinary action should have been taken rests with the Council.”
“City Ordinance allows each Council member to appoint an assistant who shall serve at the pleasure of the Council member,” he said.
Winch did not return requests for comment about Kirkley-Bey’s continued employment.
Kirkley-Bey referred all questions to an attorney, John Kennelly. Kennelly, a former city councilman, said he was not representing Kirkley-Bey and referred a reporter to another attorney, Paul Spinella, who did not immediately return a call for comment.
Blue, in an interview with The Courant this week, said he filed a complaint with the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in September after being notified of the letter sent to Clarke.
“I don’t care about suing, about money,” he said. “I just want it to stop, because it seems like politics and it seems like corruption.
“It doesn’t matter who you know or who you’re related to,” he added, referring to Kirkley-Bey being the daughter of longtime Hartford political leader Marie Kirkley-Bey. “You shouldn’t be above the law; we’re all human beings.”
Rifkin’s recommendation was based on an investigative report prepared for the city in May by Robert C. Hinton, an attorney working for the downtown law firm Pullman & Comley. City officials contracted the firm after Blue filed a human relations complaint against Kirkley-Bey.
The city hired a third-party attorney because Rifkin’s office provides legal counsel to the council and its staff.
Hinton, after interviewing both individuals and other city staffers, recommended discipline against both Blue and Kirkley-Bey for a “verbal altercation” the two waged inside city hall. But he noted that any discipline against Kirkley-Bey should be “more severe” due to Blue’s claims of sexual harassment having “merit.”
Documents from that investigation, as well as incident reports filed by Hartford police, reflect a series of events between the two city employees in January and February of this year.
In the first event, Blue told Officer Jim Barrett, the community service officer assigned to city hall, that Kirkley-Bey “accelerated her vehicle” in the parking lot behind city hall on Jan. 12, nearly hitting him, according to Barrett’s report.
Barrett wrote that Kirkley-Bey denied the allegations, and he ruled that the lack of independent witnesses and video cameras made him unable to substantiate the complaint, something Hinton agreed with.
Hinton wrote that Kirkley-Bey believed Blue “purposely fabricated” the incident to retaliate against her for complaints she had about Blue and his staff “not satisfactorily performing their duties.” He similarly found “insufficient evidence” to support her claim.
Not long after the incident, Barrett, Blue and Winch met in Blue’s office on the ground floor of city hall to discuss what happened, according to Barrett’s report.
During the meeting, Kirkley-Bey burst into the room and began screaming at Blue, calling him a “clown” and using a racial epithet — both Blue and Kirkley-Bey are African American.
Barrett intervened and escorted Kirkley-Bey out of the room, but she continued to “yell and scream while brushing my arms away,” the report says. While she stood in the hallway, Blue approached her and yelled “you’re a crack head.”
Hinton acknowledged in his report that the comments from both were inappropriate and offensive, but noted that Kirkley-Bey’s conduct was “more egregious,” by “barging into the meeting” and initiating the argument.
Three weeks later, during an evening event for Black History Month in city hall, Kirkley-Bey approached Blue and pulled him into a hug, according to the report compiled by Hinton, the attorney hired by the city.
Hinton said Blue described the hug as “inappropriate” and said “he was uncomfortable because she continued the hug for too long and wouldn’t let him go.”
Blue said Kirkley-Bey was “apologetic about what had happened, and told Mr. Blue that she never had a problem with him,” the report continues, referring to the altercation in January.
Later that night, Kirkley-Bey came to Blue’s office and tried to hug him and “place his hands on her breasts and ‘in her lower region,’” the report states. She also tried to kiss Blue, but he backed away, with the kiss landing near his eye, according to Hinton’s report.
She asked Blue what she could “do to fix this” and asked him to have dinner with her, the report states. As the two left Blue’s office, Kirkley-Bey “smack[ed] Mr. Blue’s butt,” Hinton writes.
Kirkley-Bey, when interviewed by Hinton, denied these allegations, and said that the initial hug was “amicable” and “mutual,” and that she did not try to proposition him or seduce him.
But a city hall security officer witnessed the interaction in Blue’s office and corroborated it to Hinton.
Hinton’s report also said that the security officer, Blue and another witness all “indicated that they smelled a strong odor of alcohol” from Kirkley-Bey and “witnessed her slurred speech and erratic behavior that evening.”