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Baltimore Housing Authority worker sues agency over sexual harassment allegations

An employee of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City is suing the agency for $4 million, alleging that a maintenance supervisor sexually abused and harassed her.

Latonya Dawson, an agency employee for 24 years, alleged that her supervisor, Wade Johnson, whispered lewd comments in her ear and made sexual advances in front of other co-workers in the suit filed in May in federal court. She said the behavior occurred on a daily basis between February and June 2016 while she was working as a maintenance clerk at the Gilmor Homes public housing complex.

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The housing authority declined to comment on the pending litigation, but a spokeswoman said Johnson has not been an agency employee since 2016. Efforts to reach Johnson were unsuccessful and no attorney was listed for him in court filings.

A similar case against the agency was dismissed voluntarily in April by the plaintiff, Nadine Lee Young, who also accused Johnson of sexual abuse and harassment while they worked together at Gilmor Homes. Johnson denied any wrongdoing in that case, according to court filings.

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The first of two former city public housing workers accused of withholding repair work from tenants in exchange for sexual favors was acquitted Thursday afte

Allegations of sexual misconduct by its maintenance staff has plagued the housing authority in recent years. In January 2016, the agency agreed to pay up to $8 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by public housing tenants who accused handymen of demanding sexual favors in exchange for making repairs. The 19 women said when they did not comply, repairs were not made in their homes, leaving them exposed to mold, lack of heat and other unsafe conditions.

The housing commissioner at the time pledged sweeping changes to ensure residents could live in “peace and dignity,” including a guarantee that all future cases would be fully investigated and employees would receive continuing sexual harassment training. The agency also planned to add a computerized system to allow tenants to request repairs without having to ask housing authority staff.

Johnson was not named as a defendant in that suit.

The class-action lawsuit was brought by Baltimore attorney Cary J. Hansel, who also represents Dawson and Young.

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Hansel said Dawson’s case is evidence of the agency’s history of “permitting” and “ignoring” sexual harassment.

“The culture of abuse at the Housing Authority is so deeply ingrained that even its own employees are not safe,” Hansel said. “We will continue our efforts to protect and defend the women being abused until there are no more victims.”

Dawson, 44, of Baltimore, also filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigates discrimination and abuses in the workplace.

Four women have joined a lawsuit against the Housing Authority of Baltimore City over maintenance men who have allegedly demanded sexual favors in exchange for making repairs — purportedly leaving one woman without heat for two years.

Tania Baker, the housing authority’s spokeswoman, said the agency did participate along with Dawson in the investigation by the EEOC, which “issued a notice that it was not able to conclude a violation occurred.”

A spokesman for the commission declined to provide information, saying complaints are confidential.

According to Dawson’s lawsuit, Johnson “began making sexually explicit and lewd comments to Ms. Dawson on nearly a daily basis, making statements about her breasts, buttocks, lips and hair.” He allegedly frequently commented on her clothing, and as a result, the lawsuit said, Dawson wore a baggier uniform to further conceal her figure.

The lawsuit said Dawson dismissed all of Johnson’s comments and “refused to reciprocate the sexually inappropriate behavior.”

When she refused to respond, Dawson alleged in the suit that Johnson retaliated against her and told her she had to resign from her second job as a crossing guard. Fearful of losing her job with the housing authority, she quit the second job, according to the lawsuit. Dawson also alleged that Johnson threatened that she would lose a recently acquired promotion.

The lawsuit alleged the housing authority knew about Johnson’s “unlawful behavior yet continued to employ him, without discipline,”

Dawson claimed she has endured a loss of sleep, nervousness, panic attacks, depression and anxiety as a result of the alleged harassment.

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