Bombshell Report Claims Sexual Harassment, Nepotism & Discrimination at City Agency

Friday, March 02, 2012


Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has asked the City Solicitor to work with investigative authorities who are currently looking into a massive complaint filed by a Providence Housing Authority (PHA) staffer against the agency’s well-respected executive director, Stephen O’Rourke.

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Elizabeth Herosy, the PHA’s executive administrative officer, sent a 37 page complaint that includes allegations of “serious misconduct, fraud and perhaps criminal activity” by O’Rourke to the Mayor’s office and various agencies, including the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Labor and Training.

“If the allegations against the PHA prove true, the Mayor will pursue any necessary actions,” said city spokesman David Ortiz. “The allegations are particularly disheartening because for over 75 years the PHA has provided vital services for thousands of Providences residents and has been recognized nationally as a model organization.”

Claiming that her five-year tenure at the PHA has been marred by “hostile, offensive and extremely stressful” working conditions, Herosy is accusing O’Rourke of “gross misconduct” including sexual and other types of harassment as well discrimination that has resulted in her not receiving any promotions.

“I have been discriminated against and I feel intimidated in this workplace, and have been denied wage increases, promotions for which I have been imminently qualified, access to apply for any promotions for which I have been qualified, pay and benefits that others receive, compensation for hours that I have been forced to work as ordered by the executive director, access to education and training programs, morning and afternoon coffee breaks and normal lunch breaks,” Herosy claims.

Sexual Harassment

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Herosy claims that O’Rourke has a penchant for making inappropriate comments and even touching some of his colleagues. Herosy says he once “put both of his hands around my waist and squeezed,” humiliating her. She also says he has also encouraged her to dye her hair to look more attractive.

In another incident, she says that one of her colleagues was so distraught after O’Rourke bent her over a table that she went home and threw away all of the clothes she had been wearing. A complaint was never filed.

Herosy says the behavior has become so accepted at the PHA that there have been numerous moments where she has felt uncomfortable with conversations taking place in the office. In one instance, she claims, O’Rourke openly questioned how much sex she was having.

“The very next day January 26, 2012, while the executive director was in the lunch room with his clique, I went in to give him a message, and the conversation turned sexual and he said to me that I probably wasn’t getting any sex. I said I wasn’t going to talk about that with him, and left the room in embarrassment and disgust,” the complaint alleges.

Unposted Jobs to Friends, Family

Herosy’s complaint also includes allegations of nepotism and patronage hires by O’Rourke. She calls the most egregious case to be the hiring of O’Rourke’s brother, Paul, who serves as a member of the Providence Police Department and as supervisor of the Public Housing Unit, receiving pay for both positions. Herosy claims Paul, who reports to his brother, makes $52,000 annually and that his timesheets suggest he is working for the Police Department and the Housing Authority at the same time.

Other incidents:

Herosy cites a conversation she had late last year with the agency’s general counsel Mark Ouellet, who informed her that computer was being set up for an assistant he did not know he had. She claims the assistant only filled out her employment application on the day she started the job.

Herosy also claims that O’Rourke hired the husband of Venuz Madrid, who serves on the PHA’s Board of Commissioners and is one of three members of the executive committee, which decides on O’Rourke’s compensation. Last week, when the board voted to hire a lawyer to investigate Herosy’s claims, Madrid recused herself from the vote.

Herosy said the woman who previously held her position and was later promoted to human resources manager has received over $25,000 in pay increases over four years. She also claims the woman’s son was hired as an intern and earned $36,400 in a part-time position. The woman’s husband was also paid $18,720 for temporary work, according to Herosy.

Special “Clique” has Fraudulent Timesheets

Herosy complaint also includes allegations that nearly a dozen staffers close to O’Rourke regularly fudge their timesheets to suggest they are working when they are really taking long lunches, arriving for work late and leaving early. She suggests the amount of fraud has “risen to the level of criminality.”

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“It is appalling to me as a public servant that almost every Friday afternoon without fail he takes his clique to two and a half to three hour lunches, and returns to work with them after drinking liquor,” Herosy claims. Then they leave early and go with him to the Fabre Line club or drinks. However, the timesheets regularly signed by the employee and Mr. O’Rourke show them working and being compensated for a full day.”

Herosy cites six examples of incidents between last December and February where employees were not following authority rules when it comes to their timesheets. Still, she claims, they continue to receive promotions from O’Rourke.

“These people in his clique are given substantial raises and promotions, and allowed to have a very flexible work schedule, and then come in their day off and put in for compensatory time at a rate o time-and-a-half. The abuse is rampant,” she says.

Referred to State Police

O’Rourke did not return a call to GoLocalProv Wednesday.

In a statement, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s spokeswoman Amy Kempe said Herosy has been referred to the State Police.

“Our office was made aware of allegations regarding the Providence Housing Authority and referred the individual who brought those concerns to us to the Rhode Island State Police,” Kempe said. “Beyond that we cannot confirm or deny there is an investigation into the Providence Housing Authority. “


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