The Florida branch of the National Organization for Women called on Palm Beach real estate billionaire Jeff Greene to drop out of the governor's race Thursday evening following an allegation that Greene slapped a former employee on the arm in late 2012.
The allegation, which was first reported by CBS Miami's Jim DeFede on Thursday, was made by Lisa Ann Thomas, a former cocktail waitress at Greene's Omphoy Beach Resort. (The resort is now called the Tideline Ocean Resort and Spa.) She told police at the time that the incident "offended" her but declined to press charges.
The Greene campaign issued this statement to the TV station:
"As you can read in the report, the former employee was 'offended' by Jeff's actions — but did not have any injuries, did not think he intended to physically hurt her, and confirmed that no fighting words were spoken. Jeff wishes this former employee all the best."
The incident took place on Dec. 28, 2012, according to a Palm Beach police incident report first published by the CBS affiliate. Greene approached Thomas at about 5 p.m. and "smacked her on the arm," according to the report, before asking her to turn down the music.
Read the police report here.
Thomas, then 24, was "offended" by the incident, the report said, and later quit.
The officer who took the report asked Thomas if "she had any injuries and if she thought he intended to physically hurt her and if there were any fighting words."
"No," was Thomas' answer.
She told the officer she did not want to press charges. She filed the report at the request of her attorney "for the purpose of documenting the incident." Thomas also told police she reported the incident to the hotel.
Thomas declined to comment to CBS Miami regarding its story.
Florida NOW president Terry Sanders likened the incident to other famous recent cases of prominent men abusing their power in the workplace.
"The #MeToo, #TimesUp and NOW's #EnoughIsEnough campaigns have shed a much-needed light on sexual violence, bullying and harassment," Sanders said in a statement. "This type of assault is rooted in power imbalance, and so it's unfortunately not surprising that a billionaire like Jeff Greene victimized a female employee. It was incredibly brave of her to report the assault, and we stand with her."
But Greene campaign spokeswoman Claire Van Susteren said in a statement that Sanders had an ulterior motive in calling for the candidate to step down: Florida NOW supports one of Greene's rivals, Gwen Graham, in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
"Tonight Terry Sanders, Gwen Graham campaign donor and President of Florida NOW, chose to play politics with the critically important #MeToo movement," Van Susteren said in the statement. "I spoke with Terry and expressed my disappointment that she is politicizing and mischaracterizing this report – going against the wishes of Greene's former employee, who asked to keep this private. Terry essentially made clear that her statement was a tit for tat because she was upset about Greene's ads on Graham's poor environmental voting record."
Just spoke with Terry & expressed my disappointment that she is politicizing this report - which the employee wanted to be kept private. She essentially expressed this was a tit for tat because she was upset about Jeff’s ads on Graham’s record. Welcome to politics, folks.— Claire VanSusteren (@cvansusteren) August 10, 2018
Sanders denied Van Susteren's account of their conversation, she told the Tampa Bay Times, and noted that Florida NOW has not endorsed a candidate in the governor's race. (Sanders did donate $100 to the Graham campaign in June of this year.)
"I never said anything about that," Sanders said. "I never said anything about his attacks on Gwen Graham."
Greene and Graham have sparred in recent days over how their business interests conflict with their environmental agendas, with Greene running negative television ads about Graham.
This story was updated late Thursday evening with a new statement from Van Susteren in response to Sanders' call for Greene's exit from the race.