A second female employee has stepped forward to accuse Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams of sexual misconduct, and state Democrats acknowledged this week that they paid a third woman $30,000 to settle her 2011 claim that Williams had harassed her when he was a state representative and she was his legislative aide.
The Inquirer and Daily News reported last week that Vanessa Bines, 40, a current Sheriff’s Office administrative assistant, filed a federal lawsuit last month alleging that Williams and Deputy Sheriff Paris Washington harassed her with sexual come-ons and lewd remarks from 2013 to 2015; and later with retaliatory hostility after she filed complaints against them with city and federal equal employment offices.
In a statement, Williams “categorically” denied those claims in the “strongest possible fashion.”
But another employee, Marlaina Williams, 34, has accused Williams of similar behavior, according to a complaint she filed this fall with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It alleges that Williams repeatedly harassed her from June 2013 until she left the office emotionally broken this June.
Her lawyer, Steven Auerbach, said he expects to file a federal lawsuit on the matter after receiving a go-ahead from the commission. “I fully intend to bring this man to justice,” he said of Williams, who has been sheriff since January 2012.
Meanwhile Tuesday, City Controller-elect Rebecca Rhynhart issued a statement vowing to initiate a “detailed audit” of the Sheriff’s Office after she takes office in January. She cited “the allegations of sexual harassment” among reasons to conduct “a much deeper review of the office.”
The complaint by Marlaina Williams claims that her four years in the Sheriff’s Office were marred by mistreatment and harassment due to her gender and her Muslim religion.
“Sheriff Williams expressed his sexual interest in Complainant through many comments including one inquiry as to whether he had a chance with her,” the complaint says. “On multiple other occasions, Sheriff Williams would also summon Complainant to his office, steer her into the corner, and attempt to kiss her. On other occasions, Sheriff Williams invited Complainant on vacations for the express purpose of a romantic liaison.”
She said she rejected all of Williams’ sexual advances, which turned into jealousy-driven harassment in December 2013 when he became aware that she was dating another office employee, the complaint states.
Among the things he allegedly told her: “I’m jealous that he gets to go home with you and not me”; “I’m hating on your relationship”; “You should leave him … and be with me”; “I’m gonna transfer your boyfriend and put him on the overnight shift so y’all can’t spend any time together”; “I haven’t had sex in two years, so if I’m not happy no one’s gonna be happy.”
In addition to making sexual comments, Williams also frequently made inappropriate comments about her Muslim modesty garb, the complaint states.
“As a result of her employer’s conduct, Complainant suffered a panic attack in June 2016 and was rushed to Thomas Jefferson [University Hospital],” the statement says. “Since then, she has suffered related health issues as a consequence of the discrimination … which she was forced to endure.” She left the office that month.
Bines made similar allegations about the sheriff in her federal lawsuit. Williams had unsuccessfully pursued a relationship with Bines until he discovered that she was dating his driver, her lawsuit says. “Eventually, Williams allegedly began referring to her as a ‘home wrecker’ and ‘whore'” due to her relationship with the married driver, the suit says.
Williams, 60, signaled Monday that he intends to challenge both Bines and Marlaina Williams in court. “These accusations are without merit,” he said in a one-sentence statement. “Again, we ask the public to allow the courts to do [their] job before passing judgment.”
He declined to comment about the settlement in a 2011 lawsuit in which he was accused of engaging in similar misconduct while he was a state representative serving the 197th District in North Philadelphia. That suit, filed by former legislative assistant Karan M. Rogers, was settled in June 2012 for $30,000, according to Bill Patton, spokesman for the Democratic Caucus of the state House of Representatives.
Rogers, who was an office intern in 2001 and 2002 and was hired in 2003 as a legislative assistant, alleged that Williams began showing a sexual interest in her in 2007.
“Rep. Williams would summon me to his office, steer me into a corner, and attempt to kiss me,” she wrote in her complaint. “On several occasions he invited me to accompany him on recreational trips. For business related trips, he would tell me that I would be required to share a room with him. Whenever I was required to drive Rep. Williams to meetings and press conferences, he would attempt to kiss me.”
Rogers also accused Williams, whom she described as a Muslim, of frequently mocking her religion by calling her “overly Jesus” and “you Christian.”
She also alleged that Williams objected to her choice of cosmetics. “For example, whenever he entered the office, he would comment, ‘What is that smell?'” Rogers wrote in her complaint. “He would approach my desk, lean over me and would repeatedly smell my hair. Rep Williams would direct my coworkers to do likewise. Because of the fragrance/odor, Rep. Williams sent me home.”
She went on medical leave from the office in the fall of 2008 due to the stress of being harassed, she wrote, and was fired that December after state officials said they had not received medical information from her doctor.
Neither Rogers nor her attorney returned calls seeking comment in recent days.
The accusations against Williams place the two-term sheriff under a harsh spotlight crowded by prominent men in government, media, and entertainment accused of similar behavior. In Philadelphia, the list includes Vincent Fenerty Jr., former executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, who was forced to resign last year amid allegations that he had used taxpayer funds to take female employees on work trips on which he allegedly made sexual advances toward them; and Carl Greene, former executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, who was fired in 2010, in part for settling sexual-harassment lawsuits with public funds and not informing the PHA board.