Former PHA worker sues, says he was unfairly fired

A former assistant general manager of the Philadelphia Housing Authority has claimed in a federal lawsuit that he was unfairly fired in 2009 after he spoke out against waste, fraud, and theft at the authority.

John Tatum, who supervised more than 400 workers, says his termination came after he informed his superiors and their outside lawyers that he suspected some PHA employees were using the agency's Home Depot credit cards to steal building materials.

Tatum says he was first demoted and reassigned to managing two people at the Blumberg Apartments in North Philadelphia after reporting his suspicions. He had been head of maintenance for thousands of freestanding PHA houses, or "scattered sites." He was subsequently fired Jan. 5, 2009.

He claims his First Amendment rights were violated and is seeking $200,000 in damages.

In his complaint, Tatum also alleges that former PHA Executive Director Carl R. Greene padded his performance numbers to collect an annual bonus by downplaying the number of work orders on scattered sites.

Tatum's whistle-blower lawsuit is the 10th legal action taken since PHA's firing of Greene in September after revelations of secret payments to settle multiple sexual-harassment complaints.

Two other employees have filed separate whistle-blower complaints. Three women have initiated either lawsuits or employment complaints that Greene mistreated them. A fourth filed a harassment complaint before Greene's firing.

And groups of landlords and nonunion PHA staff have initiated two lawsuits in federal court to retrieve money they claim they were forced to contribute to a Greene-promoted nonprofit group.

Meanwhile, Greene has sued PHA's board for terminating his contract and separately filed a defamation complaint against John F. Street, the PHA's chairman.

In response to the Tatum lawsuit, Clifford E. Haines, an attorney for Greene, said, "It would appear that all these suits are being filed by one lawyer. It is too early to know exactly what's going on here."

Michael Pileggi and L. Kenneth Chotiner, two former PHA lawyers who many years ago filed their own whistle-blower lawsuits against the authority, are representing Tatum. They also represent three other individual plaintiffs, plus the landlords and nonunion employees.

PHA spokeswoman Nichole Tillman had no comment on the Tatum lawsuit.

Besides PHA and Greene, the complaint also named as defendants Diane Rosenthal, head of finance at PHA, and Daniel Quimby, a former general manager of maintenance.

Quimby, who has retired from PHA, did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

In his lawsuit, Tatum says that Greene's annual bonus was based in part on reducing the number of outstanding service orders.

The lawsuit says that requests for repairs were often recorded as "closed" but were actually shifted to another department and then outsourced to non-PHA contractors.

The alleged theft of building supplies dates to December 2007. Tatum began suspecting that employees who reported to Quimby were stealing from PHA, according to his lawsuit. In July 2008, Philadelphia police raided a North Philadelphia "chop shop" and seized a large quantity of stolen building materials from the Housing Authority.

PHA police began a probe. Tatum told Quimby and outside attorneys also investigating the situation that he had information and substantiating documents regarding how the thefts were carried out.

Shortly after that meeting, Tatum was demoted and later fired.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported last September that the FBI was investigating the alleged theft ring at PHA involving millions of dollars in stolen building materials.


PHA Lawsuits

Dec. 30: John Tatum, a former maintenance manager for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, sues in federal court, saying he was fired after speaking out against waste, fraud, and theft at the agency.

Dec. 7: Carl R. Greene, deposed PHA executive director, accuses PHA board chairman John F. Street of defamation in Common Pleas Court. In terminating Greene, Street referred to him as a "serial sexual harasser."

Nov. 12: Landlords from across the region sue PHA in federal court, alleging that the agency fraudulently took their money for an illegal lobbying fund and for the "personal enrichment" of PHA employees.

Oct. 28: Moneke Thomas, a former senior management specialist who settled a sexual-harassment complaint against Greene for $350,000, claims in Common Pleas Court that she continued to be intimidated by PHA employees after she left the agency in 2008.

Oct. 14: Vincent Morris, a former executive assistant who also worked for the nonprofit and PHA-affiliate Tenant Support Services Inc., files a whistle-blower lawsuit in federal court. He claims he was forced out of his job after warning about improper spending on lobbying and political activity.

Oct. 14: Laura Hesson Leibert, a former PHA technical aide, sues Greene in federal court over sexual harassment and retaliation.

Sept. 22: Rosanna Grdinich, a former human resources employee at PHA, says in a federal lawsuit that she was removed from her job and had her salary cut after confronting Greene with allegations of sexual harassment.

Sept. 20: PHA engineer Jen Ragen files a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging Greene with sex discrimination.

Sept. 15: Current and former employees sue PHA in federal court, alleging they were pressured to contribute to a Greene-promoted nonprofit group that was a front for illegal lobbying activities.

Sept. 7: Greene sues the five-member PHA board in federal court for violating terms of his employment contract by effectively terminating him.


Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.