Convention center supervisor arrested for workplace violence incident, allowed to return to work

SAN ANTONIO – Additional female maintenance employees 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 yanking a subordinate’s hair while both were on duty last year.

Building Maintenance Officer Juan Cortez, 60, faces a misdemeanor charge of assault causing bodily injury.

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

Villegas was diagnosed with a neck strain after the incident and at one point was instructed 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 pull the hair of Maria Villegas near a convention center loading dock in August. (KSAT)

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

He continued working for another two weeks, however, before finally being taken into custody.

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

Cortez was taken into custody on July 13 and released that same day on a $2,500 bond, court records show.

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

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

A labor representative for the trade union representing maintenance employees at the convention center released the following statement after 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 assaulting a subordinate, the city needs to take it very seriously. We will always stand with the workers of the City of San Antonio until justice is done and the culture of abuse is eradicated from the city ranks,” wrote Sheri Van Horsen, field coordinator for AFSCME Local 2021 San Antonio Civilian Workers.

Cortez, who has not yet been convicted of a crime, is scheduled to be arraigned on Aug. 15 in County Court 12.

Five-day suspension and a stream of complaints

City officials, in a series of written statements in recent weeks, attempted to defend the decision to return Cortez to work and their handling of last year’s workplace violence incident.

“As a follow-up to last week’s statement regarding Juan Cortez, he has addressed his warrant, is currently out on bond and has returned to work. The City disciplined the employee last year. If we learn of substantive additional information related to the incident, additional actions may be taken,” Convention and Sports Facilities Communications Manager Richard Oliver wrote 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 faced a possible termination for pulling his subordinate’s hair “without provocation,” but the punishment was revised and shortened to five days in late August after a conversation between a human resources administrator and Muzquiz Cantor.

Cortez was moved to a different part of the complex, away from Villegas, and was warned that any further infractions would result in being terminated.

A city spokeswoman said Cortez’s discipline was not changed and that references in his discipline paperwork “to suspension in lieu of termination is standard language.”

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

Multiple female maintenance employees said the decision to keep Cortez at work despite a pending work-related criminal charge exemplifies the current dysfunction inside the convention center.

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

Maintenance employee Flora Adame. (KSAT)

A complaint filed by Adame against Cortez in September, weeks after the hair pulling incident, detailed an incident in which Cortez put a cold soda can on the neck of a female co-worker.

“She go like that,” said Adame, describing the quick manner in which the unsuspecting woman shrugged her shoulders.

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 stated that she had previously witnessed Cortez yank a female worker on a dolly out from under a stage by her ankles, while a crew set up for an event.

A stream of complaints against Juan Cortez was filed with human resources after he was suspended last year. (KSAT)

While Villegas was being interviewed by an HR representative in early September, she detailed a second workplace violence incident by Cortez last July in which “he grabbed my arm and put it behind my back like a police officer,” records show.

“You’re not supposed to be touching. No matter what part of the body. You keep your hands to yourself,” said Adame.

Another maintenance employee 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.

She described Cortez as “bad people,” and in Spanish said that he likes to be a bully and pit workers against one another.

The woman showed KSAT Investigates a list of handwritten complaints she’s made against Cortez that she claims have gone nowhere.

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

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