A TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE
In March 2008, attorney William Adler of Styskal, Wiese and Melchione, Styskal, Weise and Melchione, LLP, received two letters. One, dated July 14, 2008, was sent by a former officer of the credit union and accused President Wiggington of having sexually harassed her for a period of years. The second letter was anonymously written and contained a long list of violations of state and federal laws allegedly committed by Priority One Credit Union's President, Charles R.Wiggington, Sr.
One allegations which we've reported about previously, accused the President of sexually harassing a former employee. The employee had been employed by the credit union for more than ten years and had served in the capacities of Real Estate Loan Officer ("Loan Officer") and Assistant Branch Manager of the credit union's Los Angeles office. She was known to be a highly competent officer and was well-liked. While serving as Loan Officer, she received numerous commendations praising her cross-selling abilities. She was so knowledgeable that when the Director of Lending was absent, she was left in charge of the Loan Department located at the main branch in South Pasadena, California.
Mr. Adler contacted Board Chair, Diedra Harris-Brooks, to advise her of the letter's contents though he wisely chose not to provide Mrs. Harris-Brooks with a copy of the letter. Following her conversation with Mr. Adler, Mrs. Harris-Brooks called President Wiggington at his cellular and informed of what Mr. Adler had said. The President responded by stating that the letter was written by "jealous" staff who in his words, "are out to get me."
The following day, Mrs. Harris-Brooks, visited the South Pasadena branch during which she met with Director, O. Glen Saffold and Supervisory Committee Chair, Cornelia Simmons in the branch's Board Room. Following their meeting, the three met with the President in his office where they remain in conference for approximately 20 minutes. During the closed door meeting, the President audibly denied all of the allegations and insisted that he'd never sexually harassed the former employee. Mrs. Harris-Brooks next informed him that at the request of Mr. Adler, an investigation would have to be conducted, assuring him that it would be both fair and impartial. At the conclusion of the meeting, the four rose from their seats and Mr. Saffold, extending his hand to Mr. Wiggington, Sr., assured him saying, "We're going to get through this and find out who wrote that letter."
Evidently, Director Saffold is a man who is devoid of comprehending that the point of the meeting was to discuss the allegations leveled against the President and not an inquest to try and discover who was the author of the letter. Whenever allegations arise, accusing a person of violating federal law, the response should be to conduct an investigation to try and discover if the accusations are true. The characters and for that matter, the intellect, of the three officers is revealed in Mr. Scaffold's single statement.
Immediately following conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Wiggington boarded his car and left the credit union. He was following by Mrs. Harris-Brooks, Mrs. Simmons, and Mr. Saffold, who drove in separate automobile. The following day, Mr. Adler arrived in South Pasadena and with some members of the board and the President in the Board Room. During the meeting, the President was informed that he was to being placed on PAID suspension, during which an investigation would be conducted to determine whether he had violated federal law when he sexually harassed the former employee. Of course as should have been expected, the President decried the accusations and adamantly proclaimed his innocence.
A few days later, Mr. Adler received another letter though this one was signed by the former Director of marketing. In her correspondence, she leveled numerous allegations against President Wiggington which alleged violations of credit union policies and state and federal laws. Unlike the anonymous letter which accused the President of having sexually harassed a former employee, the former Director's letter was literally ignored by Mr. Adler.
On the day the President was placed on paid suspension, Board Chair, Diedra Harris-Brooks called the former Real Estate Loan Officer and informed her that an investigation was to be conducted to determine if the President violated federal law. The Board Chair assured her that the investigation would be both fair and impartial.
The credit union hired EXTTI, Inc. a consultancy firm who are experienced professionals who investigate amongst many things, allegations of sexual harassment perpetrated within a working environment. Over a period of six weeks, investigator, Scott Barer, met with employees the victim and interviewed employees of the South Pasadena and Los Angeles branches to obtain testimonies verifying whether they had ever witnessed the President behave inappropriately when interacting with the former Real Estate Loan Officer.
Here are some of the facts obtained from interviewing more than 7 employees:
Between 2003-2005, the President, in the presence of employees of the Loan and Member Services Departments in South Pasadena branch, often told the Loan Officer that he was going to "spank your ass," "whip that ass," "beat your ass," "spank your butt," and "whip your butt." He also told her that he would like to "sop her up like gravy." The latter is an Afro-American colloquial term indicating she is going to ingest her like he does gravy.
The investigator was also told by some of the employees he interviewed that on occasion, the President would sit alongside the Loan Officer while she napped in the branch lounge room and squeeze her knee.
Employees also described an incident that took place in early December 2005, at a restaurant named Charlie's Trio, located in South Pasadena, California in early December 2005. On the day of the incident, employees of the Loan Department gathered at the restaurant to celebrate the holidays. During the party, the Director of Lending and Rodger Smock, the Director of Human Resources, were both present. Then Vice President of Operations, Charles R. Wiggington, Sr. was the last to arrive and sitting across Ms. Burke, spent much of the evening and in the presence of all attendees, trying to coax the Loan Officer into laying across his lap so that he could "whip that ass." While speaking to her in insistently repeated, "You know you want it. You know you do."
Witnesses told the detective that the Loan Officer sat quietly between two female employees, never responding to Mr. Wiggington's cajoling. We believe its important to note that the Loan Officer is a single mother and that her employment at the credit union is her only source of income.
Despite the overwhelming amount of testimonies verifying the President's inappropriate behaviors and sexualized commentaries, Directors, Diedra Harris-brooks, O. Glen Saffold, Thomas Gathers; and Supervisory Chair, Cornelia Simmons, determined that the President never committed sexual harassment as defined under federal law. Furthermore, in a letter written to the victim, Mrs. Harris-Brooks stated that the President was encouraged to participate in sexualized repartee and though inappropriate, it wasn't, according to Mrs. Harris-Brooks, illegal. And so the three Directors and one Supervisor voted to reinstate Charles R. Wiggington, Sr. Their response to the egregious acts committed by the President were a mere pat on his hand while the former Loan Officer was further victimized when the officers invalidate the gravity of the abuses she endured. Mrs. Harris-Brooks as the ring leader of this travesty of justice, made a mockery of the investigation and instead of responding appropriately to what was proven to be a violation of federal law, she chose to squash the evidence though she failed to hide it as its now made its way to the Internet.
In a letter sent to the former Loan Officer, Mrs. Diedra Harris-Brooks states that remedial measures would be taken by the Board to ensure behaviors like those perpetrated by the President, would never again occur. Why would Mrs. Harris-Brooks allude to remedial measures when according to her, no violation of federal law ever occurred?
Last December, the staffs of all branches convened at South Pasadena to participate in a sexual harassment seminar intended to educate them about what constitutes sexual harassment and how to respond to it.
On the day of the meeting, Mrs. Harris-Brooks ordered that all employees sit at the front, by the podium where a consultant of EXTTI, Inc. was scheduled to speak while she, the President and the Board and Supervisory Committee would sit towards the back of the room. The President looked nervous and it was obvious that Mrs. Harris-Brooks was trying to accommodate him, possibly even buffer the effects of what the consultant would speak about during the meeting. Not only did Mrs. Harris-Brooks segregate the two governing bodies from staff, she created a nice and comfortable buffer for the President who by the way, is the only person in the history of the credit union to be suspended and investigated for allegedly sexually harassing an employee.
The fact is, hiring a consultant to meet with all employees was an expensive enterprise. What's more, informing employees of what constitutes sexual harassment and how to respond to sexual harassment is the responsibility of Human Resources Director, Rodger Smock. What's more, shouldn't the consultant only have met with President Wiggington who after all is the only employee of the credit union accused of sexually harassing a co-worker? At the time the harassment took place, the victim was approximately 20-years younger than the President yet he, for some reason, could not control his urges and forgot that he was an officer of the credit union and that as such, had to maintain a certain level of decorum. Obviously, common sense and maintaining a professional demeanor are not something that come easily to the senior President.
In her September 5, 2008, mailed to the victim, Mrs. Harris Brooks states in part, that she is responding to allegations contained in the letter dated July 14, 2008, and sent to attorney William Adler. According to Mrs. Harris-Brooks, the investigation found that the victim had been involved in “Numerous exchanges between you and Mr. Wiggington during the course of your employment” and that the “Exchanges initiated by both you and Mr. Wiggington” including inappropriate “comments made at a holiday party 4-5 years” earlier and that the Board determined these did “not rise to level of” creating an “ unlawful hostile environment “ though admitting that “amongst other things, we believe that rules, discourteous or unprofessional behavior occurred.” Mrs. Harris-Brooks also states, “we have directed our concerns to Mr. Wiggington” and ends by assuring the victim that the Board “have taken appropriate remedial action” and “cautioned Mr. Wiggington about the familiarity of that dialogue.”
Mrs. Harris-Brooks statements are saturated with inaccuracies and distortions of the truth. Its important to note that Mrs. Harris-Brooks was not present during the holiday party so she is unqualified to comment on whether the victim took part in the sexualized commentaries initiated by the President. Testimonies obtained from employees who attended the event state that the victim never responded thus dispelling Mrs. Harris-Brooks declaration that the victim participated in the exchange. The President's sexualized comments took place over a period of years all the way through 2007. The holiday gathering took place in December 2005 and the allegations against the President were filed in July 2008. That's a period of less than 3 years, not the 4 to 5 years reference by Mrs. Harris-Brooks. We suggest Mrs. Harris-Brooks invest in purchasing a calendar.
And though the victim was no longer employed by the credit union, Mrs. Harris-Brooks proceeds to provide her with a copy of Priority One's policy governing sexual harassment. Why? In what appears an attempt to placate the victim, Mrs. Harris-Brooks writes, “Our policies prohibit unlawful harassment and retaliation for reporting unlawful harassment. Further our standards of conduct also require professional behavior by all our employees including our president/CEO." Mrs. Harris-Brooks statements are nothing more than pandering and trying to unjustly and ineptly diffuse a series of abuses caused entirely by Charles R. Wiggington, Sr.
A few days after mailing of the letter to the victim, Priority One received a 10-page questionnaire from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing who had begun investigation of the incident. The Board and President were taken aback by the complaint filed with the federal government. The credit union responded and the Board offered the department $20,000 to settle the complaint. The victim declined the offer and the board responded by offering $40,000 to settle her complaint.
If as Mrs. Harris-Brooks stated, sexual harassment never occurred then why offer $20,000 and later, $40,000 to settle the victim's complaint?