Updated August 5, 2019 - 6:06 am
The Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority’s executive director last week conceded to sending “flirtatious” text messages to his former secretary and taking her to dinner multiple times late last year — but denied ever having a romantic or sexual relationship with her.
Executive Director Chad Williams, 47, said the inappropriate conduct began the first day that he and the then 29-year-old secretary worked together in his office last September and had completely stopped by Thanksgiving weekend.
The secretary has filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission. But Williams said an independent human resources firm hired by the housing authority’s general counsel concluded he and his secretary’s flirtations were mutual and no harassment occurred.
Now Williams says he wants the firm’s findings released to the public. He claims a summary report is being withheld by the housing authority board — several of whose members he has accused of misconduct, including fraud and attempted blackmail.
“The biggest thing that upsets me is that the report will not go out so that people can see the conclusion of the investigator in her own words, that I was cleared of sexual harassment,” Williams said. “At the end of the day that’s the most important thing to a man in this industry.”
Williams and board member Sanje Sedera agree the independent investigation concluded the executive director violated a personnel policy forbidding supervisors and subordinates from “having a personal relationship that may cause the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
But Williams said Thursday that such an offense doesn’t violate his contract and therefore should not be a fireable offense. Sedera, who also said the investigation’s findings should be released, disagreed.
“It’s clearly stipulated he cannot violate the personnel policy in his contract,” Sedera said. “We all are held to a higher standard. That starts at the top.”
Sedera was one of three commissioners — all of whom Williams has accused of misconduct — who supported a failed 3-to-4 vote to fire the executive director during a special meeting held Tuesday. Sedera has denied Williams’ allegations of misconduct, and the executive director has yet to release any documents supporting the accusation.
The board will reconvene this month to discuss the investigation’s findings with Williams, who was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Lapse of judgment
On Thursday, Williams gave his first interview about the sexual harassment allegations he’s facing.
He described his actions as a lapse of judgment that was blown out of proportion.
Williams joined the housing authority in June 2018. In September he hired the secretary who would eventually accuse him of sexual harassment.
The woman had been working in a different job at the housing authority. Williams said he decided to hire her as his executive assistant — a job she did not apply for — over several external candidates because she was having difficulties working for her current manager.
At the same time, Williams said he was going through personal difficulties. His relationship with his fiancee was ending, he was living alone and he had no friends in Las Vegas.
On their first day working together in mid-September, Williams said the secretary heard him crying in his office. That evening the two ate at Bocho Sushi together in downtown Las Vegas and exchanged personal cellphone numbers.
The pair had four dinners together but never became romantic or sexual, Williams said. Most of their relationship took place via cellphone texts.
Copies of the secretary’s phone records obtained by the Review-Journal appear to show the two exchanged more than 3,700 texts on their personal cellphones from September through mid-January. However, Williams said he and his secretary sent both personal and work-related messages between their personal devices, despite also having work-assigned cellphones.
Williams said the flirting had stopped by the time he came back to work after Thanksgiving. However, the phone records obtained by the Review-Journal appear to show he and his secretary continued using their personal cellphones to text each other late into the night and early morning — between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. — through New Year’s Day.
When asked whether the relationship continued into December and January, Williams reaffirmed it had ended by Thanksgiving. He also said he doubted the accuracy of the phone records presented by the Review-Journal.
Williams said investigators retrieved text messages from the secretary’s cellphone and did not find any flirtatious texts past November. He said he did not allow investigators to search his phone.
“If someone makes charges against me they need to prove it,” he said.
The secretary’s legal counsel, Las Vegas labor attorney Tony Golden, declined to discuss the relationship.
Golden is also representing another former secretary of Williams’ who is accusing the executive director of age discrimination. That allegation was not a subject of the independent investigation.
By his own account, the executive director was still flirting with the secretary when her performance at work came under scrutiny.
A series of performance-related meetings took place in October, Williams said. In December, after the relationship allegedly ended, Williams suspended the secretary and began working on a performance improvement plan for her that was implemented in January.
Things came to a head during a performance meeting in late February.
Acting on a tip, Williams said the housing authority ran a background check on the secretary and could not verify that she had a college degree or the job history listed on her resume. In the past the agency had not regularly conducted education background checks on applicants, Williams said.
During the performance meeting, Williams said he asked the secretary whether she had fabricated her resume. He said the secretary stated she needed an attorney and left the meeting.
Golden, the secretary’s attorney, denied that his client had embellished her resume.
“With regard to the specific allegation that my client fabricated her education and work history, that is untrue,” he said in a statement. “My understanding is that many items were discussed at that meeting, and my client was blindsided by them, as she was led to believe it would be a typical performance review. She left the meeting asking to continue it so she could seek legal counsel. The meeting was never continued. My client does not wish to play out her case in the court of public opinion. She has a pending NERC charge and will pursue all available legal and equitable remedies available to her for the unlawful way in which she believes she was treated.”
About a week after the meeting, Williams said, the housing authority’s legal counsel received a letter containing her sexual harassment allegations. Board members then voted in March to conduct an investigation into the matter.
The investigation was conducted by HRM Consulting Inc., a human resources management firm based in Northern California and Seattle, firm founder Beth Brascugli De Lima confirmed Friday. The housing authority has denied multiple public record requests from the Review-Journal to review the company’s contract and billing invoices.
An ad hoc committee of board members is now reviewing the investigation’s findings and will recommend a course of action for the housing authority. The committee’s findings will be discussed at a public board meeting later this month.
The executive director position is the second job Williams could lose due to sexual harassment claims.
He was accused of sexual harassment in 2014 while serving as a board member for The Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington in Washington, D.C. The accusation cost him his seat, but Williams has said that an investigation launched by the nonprofit coalition eventually discredited the claims.
Now, Williams said he and his attorney are ready to face the housing authority board to discuss the investigation’s findings.
“If they think not having that best judgment of going out to dinner with someone and flirtatious texts and they want to terminate me based on that — and dispute all the good performance — then fine, that’s their right,” he said. “They can do that. But hit me on something that’s right.”