Convention center supervisor arrested over workplace violence incident, cleared to return to work

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SAN ANTONIO – Other female maintenance workers at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center have come forward to detail complaints against a building supervisor, who was arrested weeks after KSAT Investigates exposed footage of him pulling his hair out. a subordinate while they were both on duty last year.

Building maintenance worker Juan Cortez, 60, is facing a misdemeanor charge of assault causing bodily harm.

City surveillance camera footage showed him grabbing the hair of maintenance worker Maria Villegas as she walked alongside co-workers near a convention center loading dock in August.

Villegas was diagnosed with a sprained neck after the incident and at one point was told by her doctor not to lift anything at work over 20 pounds.

For nearly a year, law enforcement took no formal action against Cortez.

Surveillance footage shows supervisor Juan Cortez pulling Maria Villegas’ hair near a convention center loading dock in August. (KSAT)

Eleven days after KSAT Investigates first showed the stunning footage to the public as part of a story detailing the sexual, emotional and physical trauma caused by male supervisors inside the city-run building, a warrant was issued for Cortez’s arrest.

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However, he continued to work for another two weeks before he was finally taken into custody.

A spokeswoman said this month that neither Cortez nor city officials were aware a warrant had been issued for him until July 11. It was the same day that KSAT Investigates asked city officials why Cortez was allowed to continue working with an active warrant for his arrest.

Cortez was arrested July 13 and released the same day on $2,500 bail, court records show.

Convention center officials have cleared Cortez to return to work while his criminal case is pending.

His lawyer did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.

A union representative from the union representing convention center maintenance workers released the following statement following Cortez’s arrest:

“We are so happy to see that the detectives and prosecutors in this case understand that an assault is an assault, and when it is a supervisor who assaults a subordinate, the city must take it very seriously. We will always stand with the workers of the city of San Antonio until justice is served and the culture of abuse is eradicated from the ranks of the city,” wrote Sheri Van Horsen, field coordinator for AFSCME Local. 2021 San Antonio Civilian Workers.

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Cortez, who has yet to be convicted of a felony, is scheduled to stand trial Aug. 15 in County Court 12.

Five days of suspension and a flood of complaints

City officials, in a series of written statements over the past few weeks, have attempted to defend the decision to fire Cortez and their handling of last year’s workplace violence incident.

“Following last week’s statement regarding Juan Cortez, he has served his warrant, is currently out on bail and has returned to work. The City disciplined the employee last year. If we learn any information significant additional information related to the incident, further action can be taken,” wrote Convention and Sports Facilities Communications Manager Richard Oliver via email on July 19.

Officials have repeatedly refused to make Patricia Muzquiz Cantor, executive director of convention and sports facilities, available for an interview.

City records obtained by KSAT Investigates show Cortez was facing possible termination for pulling his subordinate’s hair “unprovoked,” but the sentence was revised and shortened to five days in late August after a conversation between a human resources and Muzquiz Cantor.

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Cortez was moved to another part of the complex, away from Villegas, and was warned that any further infractions would result in termination.

A city spokeswoman said Cortez’s discipline had not been changed and references in his disciplinary documents “to suspension in lieu of termination are standard language.”

City officials have previously said Cortez’s nearly 20-year career with the city without any prior disciplinary incidents was taken into account when determining his sentence.

Several maintenance workers said the decision to keep Cortez on the job despite an ongoing work-related criminal charge illustrates the current dysfunction inside the convention center.

“When it comes to us, nobody cares,” said Flora Adame, a maintenance worker who has worked for the city since 2001.

Maintenance worker Flora Adame. (KSAT)

A lawsuit Adame filed against Cortez in September, weeks after the hair-pulling incident, details an incident in which Cortez put a cold soda can on a co-worker’s neck.

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“She’s just fine,” Adame said, describing the quick manner in which the unsuspecting woman shrugged.

The same complaint to HR detailed an allegation that Cortez yelled at workers, including Adame, to “hurry up and get the job done.”

A separate complaint filed against Cortez in September by another employee said she once saw Cortez pull a female worker on a cart under a stage by her ankles while a crew prepared for an event.

A series of complaints against Juan Cortez have been filed with human resources after his suspension last year. (KSAT)

While Villegas was being interviewed by a human resources representative in early September, she detailed a second incident of workplace violence by Cortez last July in which “he grabbed my arm and put it behind my back like a police officer. “, according to the records.

“You’re not supposed to touch. It doesn’t matter what part of the body. You keep your hands to yourself,” Adame said.

Another maintenance worker who has worked for the city since 2016 agreed to be interviewed by KSAT but did not want her name or identity revealed to the general public.

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She described Cortez as “bad people” and said in Spanish that he enjoyed being a bully and playing workers against each other.

The woman showed KSAT Investigates a list of handwritten complaints she filed against Cortez that she says went nowhere.

After the woman’s lunch was thrown away five times, she said she went to Cortez, her supervisor, only to be told by him that he would not do anything about the situation.

Copyright 2022 by KSAT – All rights reserved.

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