HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Valhalla Resale has a great location in Seminole Heights. The women’s boutique, which allows its members to rent and buy clothes, is located in the shopping center near the corner of Central and Hanna Avenues.
Right now, however, the storefront’s location isn’t so great because of the work that’s happening outside.
The City of Tampa is upgrading underground stormwater infrastructure to prevent flooding.
In late 2021, the city and its contractor, Nelson Construction, began the ambitious project that isn’t projected to be completed until late 2024.
In past months, homeowners and business owners have complained about torn-up streets, litter left behind by construction crews, and how the work has created significant disruptions across the neighborhood.
Valhalla’s owner, Danielle Ferrari, was worried about losing business due to the work.
However, as work began recently on the intersection outside her business, a different problem has been bothering her.
According to Ferrari, in the days following Memorial Day, a construction worker assigned to the job site outside her business repeatedly harassed a Valhalla employee, who had to walk through the construction zone to get to the store’s entrance.
“He was telling her that he wanted to ask her out, he wanted to take her out, and does she have a boyfriend, and would not take her ‘no’ for an answer,” Ferrari said. “It was consistent. It wasn’t just one single time. It was over and over and over again until she didn’t feel comfortable even parking anywhere near this person. She started avoid them and changing the way that she dressed. She was feeling incredibly uncomfortable.”
“I would say, one out of ten, probably the content was probably a four, but the unrelentingness would probably closer to a seven out of ten,” Ferrari continued.
The Valhalla employee, who we’ve chosen not to identify, said the persistent catcalling happened for three days straight. She said the construction worker even entered the women’s boutique to browse the store, which made her and a coworker even more uncomfortable.
When Ferrari learned of the harassment claim, she emailed letters to both Nelson Construction and the City of Tampa demanding answers, recourse, and accountability.
“It is of the utmost importance that appropriate action is taken to address this issue and prevent any further instances of harassment within your workforce,” Ferrari wrote in a June 11 letter to Will Stock, the project manager for Nelson Construction.
In an email to Ferrari, Stock said an investigation “concluded that harassment did occur” and a Nelson worker was the perpetrator.
“I am not privy to the disciplinary action associated with this incident as that has been handled by our HR and the employee’s direct supervisors yesterday afternoon,” Stock wrote in the June 14 email. “What I do know and that I relayed to both of your employees is that our employee that did the harassing will not be present anywhere near your portion of the job site moving forward and has not been present at all this week.”
Ferrari, however, isn’t satisfied. She wants proof that the worker was reassigned. She also wants more accountability and answers from both the contractor and the city because she believes there were other instances of harassment and other victims, including her customers.
“I never try to be difficult, but I also have a duty to protect my employees and my members and my customers and my business, and right now, it’s under threat, and the city has done nothing to prevent that,” Ferrari said.
Adam Smith, the Communications Director for the City of Tampa, said the “disturbing allegations” are under investigation.
“A city employee would be fired for the kind of behavior alleged here, and we expect our contractors to have zero tolerance, too,” Smith wrote.
Audrey Clarke, a spokesperson for Nelson Construction and its subcontractor, RE Beckner Construction, assured that the harassment claims are being treated seriously.
“Beckner Construction is a woman-owned company and understands the sensitive nature of these claims,” Clarke wrote. “This is an active investigation, so we have no further comment at this time.”
Meanwhile, Ferrari wants assurance from the city that both her employees and her customers will be safe as the construction moves forward.