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Housing authority pays over $100,000 to settle claims against director

Updated July 16, 2020 - 7:35 pm

The Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority will pay $127,500 to two female former employees who filed harassment and discrimination complaints against executive director Chad Williams last year.

In all, the agency has agreed to pay more than $500,000 total in settlements with female former employees since 2017 who said they were mistreated by current and former directors.

In a Thursday meeting, commissioners agreed to pay $17,500 to Elizabeth Garcia, who in February 2019 accused Williams of sexually harassing her while she served as his executive assistant. An independent investigation later concluded the two had engaged in an “ongoing, consensual, mutually flirtatious and personal relationship.”

Pamela Reid, another former executive assistant who accused Williams of age discrimination, will receive $110,000. The 67-year-old had worked at the housing authority since 2010 until Williams fired her in January 2019.

Tony Golden, a labor attorney representing Garcia and Reid, declined comment on their behalf Thursday. Williams, 48, also declined comment on the settlements.

Almost $100,000 of the women’s settlement money will be covered by the housing authority’s insurance, board chairman Scott Black said. The rest will be paid from the agency’s unrestricted non-federal funds.

While some members of the public who attended the meeting criticized the housing authority for paying out any public money, Commissioner Olivia Diaz said settling now would save the agency in the long run. She underscored that the settlements carried no admission of wrongdoing.

“If we don’t settle this today, it is going to be stretched out over the course of so many months or years, and we will have to continue to subsidize the (housing authority’s) legal team,” she said. “While it is not very easy to say ‘let’s settle,’ I am looking out for the agency.”

Only five of the eight commissioners currently serving on the housing authority board attended Thursday’s meeting. None of the board’s resident commissioners, housing assistance recipients who help govern the agency, were present.

The commissioners in attendance voted unanimously to approve the settlement with Reid. Four voted in favor of the settlement with Garcia, while Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, whose nephew once dated Garcia, abstained from the vote “out of an abundance of caution.”

History of payouts

In March 2017, commissioners agreed to pay $160,000 to former Director of Human Resources Sharon Williams and another $17,500 to former Director of Procurement Deborah Laine. Another $225,000 settlement was approved for former Director of Affordable Housing Shannon Gammie later that year.

All three women alleged they were mistreated by former executive director John Hill during his tenure. A 2014 investigation into Hill by law firm Parker Nelson & Associates, which handles the housing authority’s legal affairs, found Hill “unknowingly engaging in subtle forms of gender discrimination,” according to Review-Journal archives.

Hill has since gone to serve as the executive director of the Rochester Housing Authority in New York and the Wilmington Housing Authority in Delaware.

After Hill’s departure in April 2016, the agency spent more than two years without a permanent leader before hiring Williams in May 2018.

He signed a three-year contract, with a starting annual salary of almost $153,000. It was William’s first job as a housing authority employee, but he had a lengthy history of working as a consultant for affordable housing projects.

A “flirtatious” relationship

In September 2018, Willams transferred Garcia to work in his office. Previously an employee for the housing authority’s supportive services department, the then 29-year-old was training to become Reid’s replacement when Reid retired.

In an interview with the Review-Journal last year, Williams admitted that he began a “flirtatious” relationship with Garcia on the first day she worked for him.

What began as a dinner at a downtown Las Vegas sushi restaurant soon evolved into late night visits to the secretary’s home, drinks at lunch during the work day and hundreds of text messages between their personal cell phones, according to investigative and housing authority documents obtained by the Review-Journal last year.

Williams said the flirting ended around Thanksgiving 2018 and that he and Garcia never had a romantic or sexual relationship.

But in a letter sent to Williams in August 2019, housing authority attorney Teddy Parker alleged the executive director had “misrepresented the extent of his relationship” with Garcia and not fully cooperated with the investigation.

While Williams refused to turn his phone over to investigators, Garcia did. In one exchange of text messages between the two, Williams said he wanted to visit Garcia’s home to “cuddle, talk and drink wine.” When her time card came under scrutiny in October 2018, Williams wrote that he should “spank” her and that “pillow talk can’t save you from this one,” according to copies of the texts that were made public by the housing authority.

Williams said he temporarily suspended Garcia in December 2018 following a series of performance-related meetings in October. She stopped coming to work after a February 2019 performance meeting where he confronted her about whether she had lied about her college degree and job history on her resume. In a statement to the Review-Journal last year, Golden denied the allegation on Garcia’s behalf.

Garcia accused Williams of sexual harassment later that month, and housing authority commissioners hired California-based human resources management firm HRM Consulting Inc. to conduct an independent investigation.

The inquiry concluded in June 2019. After reviewing more than 930 text messages sent between the two employees and interviewing Williams, the firm determined the executive director’s behavior was inappropriate and unprofessional, but he had not violated the housing authority’s sexual harassment policy.

In a split vote, commissioners decided in August 2019 to place Williams on probation for six months and require him to attend ethics training. Chairman Black said the executive director had finished both and had not been accused of any further harassment or discrimination.

Commissioners have yet to give Williams his first performance review, which under his contract is supposed to be completed annually. The process was delayed because of the investigation and later because of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak, but Black said it will be completed “in the near future.”

For now, Black said he’s confident the housing authority had made the right choice in keeping Williams at its helm.

“I think he’s committed to doing his job well, and I think he’s striving to identify and answer the hard questions about what we can do better here at our agency,” Black said. “I think we’re on a good course.”

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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