Lawsuit: Spurned sexual advances led nonprofit to lose city contract

Former city official says allegations are false
A federally funded housing program helps those with HIV and AIDS who may be too ill to work

A federally funded housing program helps those with HIV and AIDS who may be too ill to work

A nonprofit that houses people with AIDS and HIV claims in a new lawsuit that the city is holding up payments and blocking it from providing services because its executive director spurned the sexual advances of a city official.

The suit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, accuses former Office of Human Services Director Preston Brant, who was in charge of the city’s federally-funded Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program, of launching what it calls a “secret plan” against Living Room and its leadership.

“This is not just another story about ineptitude within the city bureaucracy,” the suit says. “Rather, this action involves a retaliatory campaign by the city’s Office of Human Services and Office of Grants Management to destroy Living Room and its Executive Director, Jerome Brooks.”

The suit claims Brooks reported Brant’s alleged sexual advances in a May 14 letter to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, but retaliation against the Living Room continued.

Brant said Brooks’ claims are false.

“His allegations are 100 percent untrue,” Brant said. “I never desired to have, nor have I pursued a sexual or romantic relationship with him. I never asked him out on a date, ever.”

Brooks declined comment. City spokesman Michael Smith said Tuesday that he would look into the issue but provided no response.

Brant was fired by the city May 24 on a separate accusation of inappropriate behavior with a client of the nonprofit, according to city personnel records. The events that led to Brant’s termination in May were not detailed in his personnel records, which the AJC obtained through an open records request. They do not mention Brooks’ complaint to Bottoms.

The city audited the nonprofit in March and accused it of providing shoddy services and then on July 3 terminated the contract.

The July 10 suit is another ugly and complicated turn in the dispute that threatens to leave some 250 people living with AIDS and HIV homeless. Living Room stopped paying its portion of its clients' subsidized rent as part of the city-run HOPWA program, which uses federal dollars to subsidize rent for low-income people with AIDS and HIV.

Brooks said Living Room depended on city funding for about 90 percent of its total revenue and cannot pay the subsidies because the city is months late on some $500,000 in reimbursements.

In turn, landlords have filed in court to evict many of Living Rooms' clients, and utilities were scheduled for shut off Friday for some three dozen participants in the program.

Because of the way the city allowed for these clients to be housed, there is no legal defense to prevent these evictions, according to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. However, its staff is working to find housing for those impacted by the crisis.

The Living Room’s suit requests a preliminary injunction that would allow the nonprofit to continue providing services.

The city, which administers the $23 million program for 28 counties in and around metro Atlanta, has been beset with complaints of poor management for years.

Last fall, Brooks proposed that the city outsource administration of the HOPWA program to his nonprofit. The lawsuit says that’s when troubles between Living Room and the city began.

After Brooks began talks with Brant to smooth things over, Brant invited Brooks to eat dinner and watch the movie “If Beale Street Could Talk” Jan. 19, the suit alleges. But the city department head allegedly became “incensed” after Brooks invited a third party to avoid the appearance of impropriety, the suit claims.

Afterward, according to the suit, Brant accused the Living Room of improperly releasing sensitive client health information. The data was on a laptop that the husband of a Living Room employee gave to one of the nonprofit’s clients.

Luke Griffin, a client of the Living Room, said he is being evicted by his landlord because the nonprofit failed to pay its portion of his subsidized rent. A suit filed by the Living Room states the City of Atlanta is retaliating against it because the nonprofit’s executive director spurned the advances of a former city official. That city official was fired over “inappropriate” behavior towards Griffin. 

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Luke Griffin, the Living Room client who received the laptop containing client health information, told the AJC that he reported the breech to the city. He said Brant then invited him to his home to discuss it further.

After that, Griffin said, the two continued to socialize in person, through phone calls and text messages for the next few months. Griffin claims that Brant said he would make sure that he would continue to have a place to live.

At some point, though, Griffin decided that socializing with Brant was inappropriate and told the city about it.

While Brant’s personnel file does not identify Griffin as the client with whom he behaved inappropriately, a May 30 email that Brant sent city human resources administrators to dispute his termination mentioned Griffin.

Brant, whose annual salary was $100,000, said in the email that his actions were neither unethical nor illegal.

“There are numerous examples of former employees who were allowed to resign from their respective roles although the degree of their actions were far, far worse,” Brant said in the May 30 email.

Griffin is being evicted from his apartment, which is subsidized with HOPWA dollars. He said he does not know where he will live next.

“I’m just waiting for the marshals,” Griffin said.