Just nine months ago, it seemed, King Harris could do no wrong. After the politically connected businessman had already won almost $20 million worth of work at Denver International Airport, the City of Denver went ahead and awarded him almost $2 million more in additional airport contracts last summer.
But times have changed. In recent months Harris's city contracts have reportedly come under the scrutiny of a federal grand jury probing Denver's controversial minority contracting program. News reports have alleged that Harris, who is black, withheld information about his far-flung business empire as he lobbied city officials for government work. Last month, Harris's company Construction Management & Technical Services was dropped from Denver's list of approved minority firms.
Now Harris has more woes. A former employee has sued Harris and CMTS in federal court, alleging that the company discriminated against her because she is disabled and because she is white.
The employee, Anmarie Sonner, worked as director of marketing in CMTS's Denver office. Last spring she was laid off.
"Plaintiff was terminated...due to her disability," Sonner's suit alleges. Sonner's disability is not specified in the suit, but friends say she was battling cancer. Later, Sonner applied for an opening in CMTS's Detroit office but was turned down because of her race, the suit claims.
Sonner, 37, is seeking compensation for lost wages, the cost of her medical insurance and "emotional pain and suffering," according to the suit. She also is seeking punitive damages against the company.
Sonner's attorney, Bruce Kaye, declined to comment on the case. King Harris did not return a phone call; his attorney, Gary Jackson, declined comment.
But one former CMTS employee says proving Harris discriminated against Sonner is going to be difficult. "She'd have a real tough time with that," says the employee, who asks not to be identified.
The former employee points out that Sonner lost her job at a time when scores of other CMTS workers were also being let go as the company began winding down its work at DIA. King Harris also has retained a number of white employees in top management positions at the company.
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"He's got all his numbers right," the former employee says. "His track record is going to make him look like a saint."
But another source familiar with the case says it wasn't Harris but one of his underlings who showed racial animus toward Sonner. Mary L. Lewis, a CMTS vice president who ran the company's Detroit operations, allegedly refused to hire Sonner because she is white, the source says. (Lewis could not be reached for comment.)
"It's not King," says the source, who insists on anonymity. "This is one of his henchmen."
Lewis, who is named as a defendant in the suit, is no longer involved in CMTS's day-to-day operations in Detroit, the source says. The office is now being supervised from Denver by Tyrone Holt, a former DIA bond attorney whose airport contracts were canceled after he was temporarily suspended from practice for drug use and income-tax evasion. Holt joined CMTS as a vice president sometime last year, the source says.