Baltimore’s Housing Authority is just a total mess. They’ve been sued by public housing residents who allege that maintenance workers forced women to exchange sex acts for necessary repairs. Now two employees who joined the lawsuit are claiming they’ve been retaliated against, reports the Baltimore Sun.
Anthony Coates works for the Housing Authority and is president of the union. After filing an affidavit in U.S. District Court “alleging that he and others had previously informed top Housing Authority officials that some workers were demanding sexual favors from tenants as a condition for making repairs to their homes,” he received a letter from his employer:
In an letter to Coates Friday, a top Housing Authority official told him he was being suspended for violating the authority’s “Code of Conduct policy.” The letter does not elaborate. Housing Authority officials declined to discuss Coates’ suspension, citing the need for confidentiality in personnel matters.
The Baltimore City Council—finally making noise about getting around to holding hearings about the Housing Authority—has reportedly expressed concern that this could look like retaliatory action against a whistleblower. I think they might be on to something!
This has been a bad few days for the embattled Housing Authority, already “the subject of a criminal investigation by city prosecutors and another investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.” Saturday afternoon the Sun reported that the Housing Authority had eliminated the position of Inspector General, described in the report as “the office designed to root out misconduct and hold employees accountable.” Housing Authority spokesperson Tania Baker said it was apparently eliminated as a cost-cutting measure:
“When the most recent Inspector General left HABC, we did a thorough review of the role and functions of the Office of the Inspector General of HABC and determined they should be consolidated as a unit under HABC’s Office of Legal Affairs in light of severe budgetary constraints and to better coordinate efforts,” she said in an emailed statement.
It’s possible the “better coordinated efforts” may have hit a snag, you guys.
This is an ugly situation. Coates and another union member, Lucky Crosby Sr., say in their affidavits that they warned “multiple senior housing officials about the allegations” and were subsequently instructed to stop their investigation, and told “not to put any of the allegations in writing.” Crosby was fired last month, and he believes it was punishment for speaking out against Housing Authority. His union agrees:
“It appears that the Housing Authority of Baltimore City has taken retaliatory action against these two employees for exercising their protected rights as local union representatives,” said Middleton, executive director of AFSCME Council 67, Maryland Public Employees Union.
The Housing Authority reportedly will begin settlement talks in January with the women who brought the sex-for-repairs allegations. Meanwhile, no date has been set for the City Council to begin their own investigation.
Get it together, Baltimore.