DeKalb Commissioner Greg Adams violated the county’s sexual harassment policy by telling an assistant he found her “sexy,” requesting photos of her in a bikini and inviting himself to her hotel room at 3 a.m. during a government conference, outside investigators hired by the county have concluded.
Ashlee Wright, who worked as Adams’ district director, is seeking a $750,000 settlement from the county government.
Adams, a pastor and former police officer, told investigators that his intention was not to have sex with Wright, but they found that his comments were inappropriate for the workplace. They recommended that Adams attend sexual harassment training.
Wright’s attorney, Robert James, said she’s seeking much more than training for Adams.
“It’s time for someone with DeKalb County’s government to stand up and make this right,” James said. “It’s very troubling behavior from a public official. … Big corporations and the powers that be would say, ‘That’s just boys being boys.’ That sounds like what I’m hearing now.”
Audio recordings created by Wright, 27, show that Adams told her she was “sexy, beautiful and intelligent” and referred to himself as “big daddy.” In addition, Adams sent text messages to Wright requesting bikini photos and, during an April conference in Savannah, asking to meet her in the middle of the night.
Adams, 54, says his words and messages were taken out of context in Wright’s effort to get rich quick.
He said Wright knew he was joking about the bikini photos, and he was just being complimentary when he said she was sexy. He said he didn’t intend the comment as a come-on.
The investigative report said Adams didn’t remember sending the late-night text message, but he said that could be because of his use of a prescription medication he’s been taking since serving in the military. The medication could cause Adams to do or say things he wouldn’t normally do, he told investigators.
“I never disrespected Ms. Wright or made harassing statements,” Adams said Tuesday. “I have never disrespected a woman, and I never will. It’s just a ploy to get money.”
Adams, who was elected last year to a super district representing the eastern half of DeKalb, hasn’t been charged with a crime.
Adams has been married for 32 years, and his wife has said she believes he didn’t harass Wright.
“I know certainly I didn’t harass her. I didn’t ask for sex. The bikini was a running joke we had,” Adams said. “When the word ‘sexy’ came up, I didn’t think it was inappropriate to say something like that when we’re joking or laughing.”
But the county’s investigators, attorneys for Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, said Adams’ assertion that he was kidding or giving compliments doesn’t absolve him.
“Despite what he refers to as his innocent intentions, however, based on the totality of the circumstances, includes his use of ‘sexy’ and requests for bikini pictures, it is our conclusion that Commissioner Adams’ conduct was in violation of the policy” for sexual harassment, according to the investigative report dated Sept. 20.
The report also cites other examples of questionable behavior, including late night phone calls and a conversation in which Adams told Wright that if she quit the county to run for political office, it would be like “aborting their baby” by ending their work together for the county government.
Bruce Morriss, an attorney for Wright, said the DeKalb Board of Commissioners should vote to settle the case.
“We’re disappointed with the county. We’re disappointed they wish to make no amends to her. They want to send him to counseling only,” Morriss said.
If the case isn’t settled, Wright could file a lawsuit after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finishes its investigation into whether harassment occurred.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.