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Gimme Shelter

In the last few years, the Denver Housing Authority has been home to controversies involving its executive director, Sal Carpio, including his well-publicized drinking problem and a sexual-harassment suit. Now another sexual-harassment complaint has the agency scrambling to cover its tracks.

In September 1996, seeking to confirm reports from employees that Carpio was rarely at work and had a drinking problem, a news crew from KUSA/9 News videotaped the housing chief for several days. The station later aired footage of Carpio leaving an hour late for work and stopping at a liquor store on the way. Heading into the office, he moved with a slow, stumbling gate and was unable to get his left arm through his blazer. Videotape also showed Carpio driving on a freeway, going forty miles per hour in the left lane, backing up traffic and swerving. At another point in the broadcast, he tried to back out of his space at the Housing Authority, but twice his car lunged forward, bumping the parking sign in front of him, while DHA chief operating officer Bobby Anderson looked on and did nothing.

Carpio says he had checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation program two weeks before the video aired, but critics still complained that the DHA board should have done something about the problem sooner. Carpio spent a month in rehab, then returned to work. His supporters were angry at what they called "mean-spirited" press coverage--and some wondered why the news team hadn't called 911--but Carpio was, and remains, contrite about the matter. "I cannot complain about it," he says. "It was my own personal action that brought the whole situation to bear. I'm disappointed it got some unusually lengthy play, but that's water under the bridge for me."

Also supposedly resolved were issues of sexual harassment at the Housing Authority, which provides subsidized housing to more than 20,000 of Denver's low- and moderate-income residents. In 1994, Paula Hargrove, a onetime relocation assistant who served as a kind of personal secretary to Carpio, alleged that he made sexual advances toward her. According to Hargrove's lawsuit, Carpio took her to a restaurant to discuss "work-related matters" but once there told her he was attracted to her. On the ride back to work, she alleged, he told her he wanted to have sex with her. She claimed he came by her house one evening to pick up employee time sheets and kissed her. Once she started to express her discomfort with his advances, she says, he and other employees began mistreating her. When she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 1994, she claimed that Carpio and others intensified their efforts to create a hostile work environment. Hargrove was fired in July 1994 for, according to her complaint, "allegedly attending a funeral without permission."

In the DHA's response, Carpio admitted he had taken Hargrove to lunch and had come to her house one time to pick up time sheets that Hargrove "had neglected to complete at the office," but he denied kissing her or making any inappropriate advances.

The Hargrove suit triggered a second suit in September 1995, when a temporary employee named Phabian Sims alleged in U.S. District Court that she had been terminated because of an affidavit she had filed with the EEOC in support of Hargrove. Sims claimed she "observed Salvadore Carpio and Paula Hargrove on at least 75 occasions, frequently hearing Mr. Carpio telling Paula Hargrove that he found her attractive." DHA attorneys denied these allegations, and Sims's case was eventually dismissed. The parties in the Hargrove suit settled in February 1996.

In August 1997, Bobbi Boynton, a DHA office clerk, was assigned to an Internal Review Committee that, according to a DHA memo, "reviews sexual harassment complaints and determines appropriate discipline, if any." The committee was instituted "under the revised Personnel Policy"--but whether these policy changes were the result of the harassment suits is unclear. However, Boynton says that because she was never told when the committee meetings were scheduled, she never attended one.

Now Boynton appears to be in the middle of history repeating itself. This past summer, Boynton--by then a former DHA employee--filed an EEOC complaint against the DHA, alleging that she had been sexually harassed and forced to resign. The details are similar to the Hargrove case, only this time the finger is being pointed at Bobby Anderson--the DHA chief operating officer who was videotaped witnessing Carpio's ill-fated parking attempts.

Anderson declined Westword's request for comment and referred inquiries to Carpio. Carpio says that because the case is before the EEOC, "none of us are really at liberty to comment. There's a lot more to it than what has been divulged."

Boynton started at the DHA in November 1991. She says she liked working at the authority, adding that it gave her "an opportunity to help people." Boynton had run into Anderson once or twice in the halls and found him "rude and crass," an opinion that only deteriorated in 1994, when she was promoted into his department, Housing Management, which is in charge of running and maintaining properties owned by the DHA.

 

Boynton was assigned to be head of elderly management at the agency's Barney Ford facility, a high-rise home for elderly residents at 20th Avenue and Clarkson Street. She says Anderson began making regular visits to the Ford facility--more visits than he needed to. "He was trying to find out information about me. He was trying to find out if I had children, stuff like that," Boynton says. He was also routinely using foul language, she says.

In April 1994, things began to escalate. An elderly resident died at Ford, and on the ride to the funeral, Boynton shared the backseat with Anderson; two other colleagues sat up front. Boynton says that Anderson, who had been quiet much of the ride, turned toward her and asked, "Wouldn't you rather have an older man? You wouldn't have to put up with a younger man being on top of you all the time. Isn't that right?" He also suggested they go out to dinner, and when she said no, Boynton recalls, Anderson told the driver to "let her ass out on Colfax."

Boynton wasn't let out, but she says, "I definitely thought it was inappropriate." She also says that she saw Anderson parked at the corner outside her house on several occasions, that he tried to alter her vacation schedule, and that he made obscene gestures and comments in her presence and forced a kiss on the lips.

In her off-hours, the soft-spoken Boynton ran an outreach ministry from a Capitol Hill storefront. Her answering machine reminds callers that "I love you, but Jesus loves you more. Have a super-great day." Her friends describe her as meek--and she says that quality may have slowed down her efforts to seek redress through administrative channels. It wasn't until February 1996 that she finally went to see DHA attorney Alexis Holman. She waited so long before complaining, she says, because "I'd just end up losing my job. I was frightened of [Anderson]." As she did for other fellow employees, Boynton continued to bring Anderson homemade cakes and candies and give him Christmas and birthday cards. "I respected Mr. Anderson as my boss," she explains. "I have to stand on my spiritual beliefs," she says, and forgive the sinner, if not the sin.

Ultimately, however, such spiritual tactics weren't sufficient, and Boynton quit in August 1998.

In its response to Boynton's EEOC complaint, DHA lawyers wrote that the agency "emphatically denies Charging Party's allegations of sexual harassment. Taking them as being true for the purposes of this Position Statement, however, Charging Party alleges only isolated instances over an extended period of time, that are not severe enough to support a sexual harassment claim."

DHA chief counsel Cynthia Jones had few comments for this article, saying she didn't want to "litigate in the paper." She did say, however, that Boynton's "allegations are false, and we intend to vigorously defend it."

But in an affidavit, Jones acknowledges problems regarding Anderson's behavior. She writes that on one occasion in 1997, Boynton came to her office to complain that Anderson was "difficult to get along with and was verbally abusive. I told Ms. Boynton that Mr. Anderson was from the old school, and that is the way he handles all of his employees, not just her."

Such behavior appears to be in violation of the DHA's personnel policy, which states that the "failure to maintain a satisfactory working relationship with other employees...which includes, but is not limited to, discourtesy and rudeness" is grounds for disciplinary action. When Boynton took her case to the state labor department this past November, a referee found that the direct cause of her resignation was "verbally abusive, offensive and vulgar language used by the chief operating officer, sometimes in the presence of the claimant, sometimes targeted directly at her." The labor department ordered the DHA to pay Boynton full unemployment benefits.

Sal Carpio rejects the possibility that the newest harassment case suggests a pattern at the Denver Housing Authority. "That's so silly I can't believe it," he says. "You're really grabbing at straws. I don't see the relationship. I don't see any connection. I don't know how many companies have ten sexual-harassment suits filed--and none of them are accurate."

If there is a hostile work environment--instead of a few isolated incidents--the agency appears determined not to let that be known. On January 13, two separate memos were sent to the entire staff of the authority (one memo is addressed to 162 individuals) warning them all that they were not to "answer any questions or provide any opinions" for this article.

 

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