Two federal lawsuits filed last week allege high-ranking city of Atlanta officials failed to protect women from their bosses’ sexual advances, despite multiple instances of inappropriate behavior.
Former city employee Judith Richards claims in her suit that she was fired after complaining about a sexual assault by Mark Henderson, who at the time was her boss and the interim executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Constituent Services.
Another lawsuit, filed on behalf of four women, alleges that an airport manager offered them money for sex and often made lewd comments in their presence.
Richards’ lawsuit says that the “highest-ranking city official(s)” had knowledge of Henderson’s illegal behavior but failed to take reasonable and prompt measures to correct it. Richards complied with some of Henderson’s advances out of fear that she would lose her job, according to the suit.
“Henderson utilized the existence of his connections in the City of Atlanta to hold a promotion over Plaintiff’s head while making sexual advances toward her,” says Richards’ suit. “He subjected Plaintiff to multiple sexual advances, comments, and touchings.”
Henderson said Wednesday that he never harassed or assaulted Richards.
“She knows I did nothing to her,” Henderson said. “This whole experience has been extremely damaging to me.”
Richards allegations are already somewhat well-known, after she filed an sexual harassment complaint with the city in January 2018. Her statement to the city included a five-page “timeline of events” that described Richards bosses’ demands that she give him part of her paycheck; ordered her to eliminate water bills for politically-connected people; and demanded that she campaign during work hours for soon-to-be Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms “because our jobs depend on it.”
Henderson said Richards paid him for the use of a parking pass and that the department was a liaison between the public and the Watershed Department, but he never ordered anyone to fix a water bill.
Richards also said that Henderson had her deliver absentee ballots to different places, including the Fulton County Board of Election. The complaint became public in the Spring of 2018 amid news that the Georgia Secretary of State had opened an investigation into the mayoral run-off between Bottoms and Mary Norwood.
A Secretary of State’s spokeswoman on Wednesday said the investigation remains open.
Henderson said that he had absentee ballot applications delivered to senior citizens, but there was no handling of actual ballots. As for the campaign work, Henderson said none of it occurred on city time.
“We all got involved in campaigns during that season on our own time,” he said.
After Richards’ allegations, the city placed both employees on paid administrative leave while the law department looked into the matter. A report produced by that inquiry concluded that Henderson had sexually harassed Richards, and recommended that he be fired.
But that didn’t happen.
Emails and personnel records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show that the city suspended Henderson without pay for 30 days. The city then created an “extra-help” position in another department that paid Henderson around $80,000 per year.
He had been making $105,000.
Meanwhile, Richards, who earned $18 per hour, remained on paid administrative leave until mid-June, when the city advised her she could return to work at the Watershed Department, according to Richards’ lawsuit. A month later, the city fired Richards for allegedly falsifying information on her criminal background check report.
A Georgia Department of Labor appeals tribunal ruled earlier this year that Richards had done no such thing.
Henderson said he resigned from the city to pursue other work.
Ewing fired after city investigation
The lawsuit filed on behalf of four women against an airport supervisor levels a similar charge.
It accuses airport supervisor Charles Ewing of offering them money for sex, grabbing them inappropriately and making lewd comments.
Ewing did not immediately return a voice mail seeking comment.
The lawsuit involving Ewing says he left Atlanta in 2010, partly because of sexual harassment allegations against him. The city rehired him in 2014, according to the suit.
In 2017, a former airport interim general manager — who was Ewing’s boss — called one of the women named in the lawsuit and informed her that two airport concessionaires had complained about sexual advances from Ewing, according to the suit.
The suit says the employee told him that the concessionaires were telling the truth.
The interim general manager then allegedly referred to women in a derogatory way, saying they “will get you in trouble.”
Ewing was fired earlier this year after an investigation by Office of Labor and Employee Relations.
In a May 23 letter to Ewing, the city’s deputy commissioner of human resources said he was being terminated for violating the city’s sexual harassment policy.