UF/IFAS researcher resigns amid complaints

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Monica Ozores-Hampton resigned after more than a dozen current and former employees and students complained to investigators about her behavior, including some who said she made them pay cash to process visas.

A University of Florida agriculture researcher accused of mistreating employees and students, failing to give them full pay, making discriminatory comments about them and requiring some to pay her cash to process their visas, has resigned.

Monica Ozores-Hampton came under investigation in late January by UF’s Office of Internal Audit after complaints grouped into seven allegations were made by employees at UF’s Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee. The center is part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“Based on a preponderance of informational evidence collected, the investigation found merit for six of the seven allegations,” the report states. “The interviews revealed a consistent pattern of harsh and unprofessional behavior by Dr. Ozores-Hampton that was directed at her staff and students over a 10-year period.”

UF spokeswoman Margot Winick said Thursday Ozores-Hampton has resigned effective July 14 and is using accrued time off.

“She is on leave for the remainder of this employment period,” Winick wrote in an email. “Given her departure, UF took no further action to discipline her.”

Known by some as the "Queen of Compost" for her expertise in composting, Ozores-Hampton is an associate professor of vegetable horticulture, according to UF’s website. Other duties include providing leadership and educational support to county extension faculty, commodity groups, regulatory agencies and vegetable growers who need science-based solutions to production problems.

The investigation began after UF’s Human Resources department got an email with allegations about Ozores-Hampton, who has been with UF since 1990. Auditors interviewed or received statements from 13 of her current or former employees and students.

Investigators found merit to all of the allegations except one: that she manipulated research data to produce results that would be deemed more satisfactory to her sponsors. That allegation was inconclusive.

Staff members complained that Ozores-Hampton was abusive to them, and investigators were told she would publicly embarrass students or staff by berating and screaming at them. Some said she publicly mocked the weight of a heavyset employee.

The report said Ozores-Hampton told investigators she may have occasionally raised her voice because she is passionate but added she could not recall specific examples of acting in an abusive manner.

Merit was also found to an allegation that Ozores-Hampton demanded cash from students or employees for processing visas. Payments of $500 for one visa and $1,000 for two visas were reported.

Payments were sought because “My personal time is valuable and it takes time to fill out the paperwork,” Ozores-Hampton told those seeking the visa. She also told them the payments needed to be in cash because “There can’t be any records,” the report said.

Ozores-Hampton denied the allegation.

Investigators also found merit to claims that she did not pay her hourly employees in accordance with the law.

For instance, Ozores-Hampton told employees that travel time to and from test fields was not paid time. A graduate student was required to work after his visa expired. Interns living in on-site dormitories were made to tend to plants on weekends.

Ozores-Hampton told investigators that hourly employees who worked more than 40 hours a week would get compensatory time, which the report said is not permitted. And she said employees were paid for travel time.

Most of the 13 people interviewed provided information that Ozores-Hampton manipulated research data. In one instance, the data appeared to have been changed over a weekend in a way that “suited her research.” They also said she complained that she had to fix data after it was collected and sometimes instructed others to use old data or to average the data.

Ozores-Hampton denied altering or manipulating data for a desired result. Investigators could not make a conclusion on the allegation because they lacked two sets of data to compare.

Witnesses told investigators that Ozores-Hampton made discriminatory comments including “I like hiring Chinese because they don’t complain” and “You (Latin people), you do not know anything, you are Indians with no culture that only come here for the American dream.”

She denied making the comments.

The research center is a 320-acre facility established in 1958 and serves agriculture interests in Collier, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties. It is one of several IFAS research centers throughout Florida.

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