PHA doing nothing to protect women, lawyer says

EVEN WITH Carl Greene gone, the Philadelphia Housing Authority leadership doesn't seem serious about settling a sexual-harassment complaint brought by former PHA architect Elizabeth Helm or making "real" changes within the agency to protect female employees, said Helm's attorney, John M. Elliott.

Elliott said settlement talks with PHA attorneys yesterday went nowhere and he intends to take Helm's case to federal court.

"I don't think they are dealing with good faith," Elliott said last night. "I think they need the effective therapy of federal judicial scrutiny . . . to implement real reform and clean up the PHA."

Helm's anticipated federal lawsuit is part of a legal avalanche that has beset PHA and Greene since allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct by Greene, then executive director, made headlines in August.

In September, the PHA Board of Commissioners, led by former Mayor John Street, fired Greene, dubbing him "a serial sexual harasser." A board investigation concluded that Greene secretly had settled three sexual-harassment claims against him for $648,000.

Greene has denied the allegations and has sued the board.

Former PHA manager John Tatum yesterday filed the latest federal lawsuit, claiming he was fired after he spoke out against what he characterized as fraud, theft and waste at the agency.

Tatum, who was hired in 1982 as a PHA maintenance aide and promoted to assistant general manager of scattered sites, alleged that Greene finagled service orders to make it appear as if there were fewer outstanding maintenance repairs. Greene did this for "his own personal gain," the lawsuit says.

Greene could earn a 15 percent performance bonus, based in part on reducing the number of maintenance-service orders. Last year, Greene had a base salary of $306,376, and was given a $44,188 bonus.

"Greene consistently hounded the PHA maintenance department to reduce the amount of outstanding service orders," even when the repairs involved hazardous materials, including lead and asbestos, that Tatum and his workers weren't qualified to handle, according to the lawsuit.

PHA fired Tatum in January 2009 for "failure to supervise."

PHA spokeswoman Nichole Tillman declined to comment on Tatum's lawsuit. Greene's attorney, Clifford Haines, could not be reached for comment.

When asked if any resolution came out of yesterday's meeting about Helm's claim, Tillman, through an e-mail to the Daily News, said: "The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission did have a conciliation hearing today in the Helm matter. The PHA participated in the hearing."

Last week, the PHRC ruled that there was probable cause that Helm was sexually harassed by Greene. In a 35-page report, detailed by the Inquirer in a Dec. 23 article, the commission found that Greene had "engaged in a pattern and practice of sexually harassing conduct" toward female employees.

The report grew out of a complaint that Helm filed in April against Greene with both the PHRC and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The PHRC recommended that Helm be reinstated as an interior designer, paid back wages, and reimbursed for legal expenses.

"I think they were certainly willing to do that, but that is not adequate compensation for what she's been through," Elliott said after yesterday's meeting with PHA attorneys.

But for Helm, "it's never been about money," Elliott said.

"She wants to make sure she is the last victim. She wants meaningful reform," he said.

Elliott said that Greene's chief of staff, Shelley James, remains in a top position at PHA, even though she helped cover up sexual-harassment allegations against Greene, according to findings by the PHRC and PHA's board.

"How do you take Shelley James, who is a cover-up artist, who was up to her eyeballs with covering up for Carl Greene, and make her acting executive director?" Elliott asked. "You got to be kidding me."