State Politics

Banking regulator accused of sexual harassment won’t quit, says he’s being targeted

Florida banking regulator suspended

Ronald Rubin was suspended as commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation after an employee accused him of inappropriate behavior.
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Ronald Rubin was suspended as commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation after an employee accused him of inappropriate behavior.

The Florida banking regulator accused of sexual harassment is refusing to resign, claiming that allegations made against him are part of an orchestrated effort to oust him after he refused to hire the friend of a Tallahassee lobbyist.

It’s the latest in the saga of Ronald Rubin, commissioner of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation, a normally obscure agency that regulates banks, check-cashing stores and payday loan shops.

Rubin spoke out for the first time since he was suspended earlier this month, releasing an 11-page memo he sent to the state inspector general.

Rubin’s memo states that he never intended to make employees feel uncomfortable, and that he wasn’t trying to pursue a relationship with an employee.

But he didn’t dispute many of the assertions in the woman’s complaint, agreeing that he invited her up to his downtown Tallahassee condo to see renovations being done, and that he mentioned his parents’ sex life while at lunch with the woman.

The woman later claimed that those interactions and others made her feel so uncomfortable that she had to hide from him in the office.

Rubin wrote that she “gave me absolutely no indication” that his behavior was inappropriate or made her uncomfortable.

“It disturbs me greatly to think that what I viewed as innocent interactions may have caused her any amount of distress,” he wrote.

Rubin’s spokesman, Seth Gordon, dismissed the idea that Rubin’s behavior constituted sexual harassment.

He said Rubin will not resign and will defend himself at upcoming Cabinet meetings.

“He’s got nothing to be embarrassed about,” Gordon said. “He wants to have a chance to have an open, public discussion about this.”

Rubin, a former Washington, D.C., lawyer, was hired by the Cabinet in January with the endorsement of Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. On Wednesday, Patronis called on Rubin to resign after two more people came forward with accusations of inappropriate behavior.

In his memo, Rubin said the allegations were orchestrated by Patronis’ chief of staff, Ryan West, and Tallahassee lobbyist Paul Mitchell, who represents several financial companies that do business with the office.

Rubin wrote that nine days before he was hired, West told him that Patronis was endorsing him for the job. West then asked if Rubin would fire the office’s general counsel and replace that person with someone West had in mind.

That person, according to Rubin, was Kimberly Grippa, a lawyer who is the ex-wife of former Leon County Commissioner Tony Grippa.

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Rubin interviewed her, but it went badly. She later filed a complaint claiming that Rubin complained about “rednecks” in Tallahassee and mentioned that one woman was “early in pregnancy but ‘showing already.’”

“I have never experienced anything like this,” Grippa wrote in her complaint.

Rubin wrote that her “redneck” allegation was “blatantly false and inflammatory.” And he denied saying the employee was “showing already.” He said he only mentioned that the woman, on whom he was relying heavily, would soon be taking maternity leave.

Kimberly Grippa’s lawyer, Ryan Andrews, said that she immediately told people after the interview that she would refuse to work for Rubin.

Text messages obtained by the Times/Herald show that she texted someone within hours of the interview calling Rubin “the biggest a-hole I ever met.”

“You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to work for him,” she wrote.

Her lawyer blasted Rubin’s decision to name her in his memo. He said Grippa only came forward after seeing the initial sexual harassment complaint, which was released by Patronis’ office.

“[Grippa] agonized over it, because this is precisely what she feared would happen,” Andrews said. “Her character would be attacked and she would be run through the mud.”

Patronis spokeswoman Katie Strickland said Rubin’s allegations sounded like “victim-blaming.”

She acknowledged that Mitchell lobbied West to hire Rubin for the job, and that West discussed hiring Grippa with Rubin. But she said that “no aspect of Mr. Rubin’s employment has ever been contingent on hiring any employee.”

“His claims are absurd and baseless,” she said.

Mitchell responded in a statement that he wouldn’t “dignify Mr. Rubin’s largely fictional written account with a point-by-point rebuttal.”

“I would simply suggest that he has created a self-serving narrative calculated to distract from the shocking fact that in a state government career that spanned mere weeks, he managed to rack up a series of sexual harassment complaints that, if true, completely disqualify him as a public official,” Mitchell wrote.

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