Ex-staffer of Cushingberry sues for harassment; recordings reveal investigation

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A former city council employee accused her boss George Cushingberry of harassing women on his staff.

She says that when she complained, City Council President Brenda Jones passed the buck. Problem Solver M.L. Elrick has been investigating this for months and has never-before-heard audio of former councilmember Cushingberry and his accuser.

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Cleo Wiley Hale says George Cushingberry was a bad boss, forcing her to do his personal business on city time and harassing her. And now you can hear Cushingberry tell a city investigator that the real problem may be that he did not harass the women on his staff.

"Under no circumstances did I make any sexual advances," said Cushingberry. "In fact, the contrary I think that's what made some of them mad, that I wouldn't."

That's then-Councilman Cushingberry defending himself in a recorded interview last year with a city investigator. City officials spoke with Cushingberry and Cleo Wiley Hale after she complained to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The city didn't take action, so Wiley Hale sued this week in federal court. During his interview last year, Cushingberry denied any wrongdoing.

"I have never forced or asked her to do anything. Absolutely not," Cushingberry said on tape.

Wiley Hale says Cushingberry was dating several women on his staff and she claimed some of the women were jealous of his interest in her.

"It's stressful because you've got females coming after you because of him, because of the ones that he's seeing," she said on tape. "You can't work in there. There's all kind of craziness because I'm in the office. It's a nightmare trying to work in there. It's bad."

Wiley Hale was recorded saying she had enough after she found out a business trip to Florida was supposed to be more like a "Girls Gone Wild" spring break.

"I was supposed to ride in this van or whatever with Richard and the other two girls, the party girls is what I call them," she said on tape. "It was supposed to have been a retreat, a staff retreat. But not many of the staff were going, just certain ones, you follow me? I didn't want to be a part of that."

Cushingberry told a city investigator that Wiley Hale was lying. 

"We have a staff retreat, with David Cavanagh and all the others," Cushingberry said in the recording. "I never made any advances to her, quite the contrary."

"This is Cleo's way of trying to destroy me ...  I feel sorry for her now."

Wiley Hale also complained to the city that when she contacted City Council President Brenda Jones' office with her concerns, she was blown off.

In an account of her ordeal that Wiley Hale provided the city, she says she contacted Jones' Chief of Staff Stephen Grady and was told "President Jones did not want to get involved."

Wiley Hale provided city officials with a text in which Grady refers her to an official in the mayor's office and writes: "At this point I must step back and let you deal directly with them." 

Wiley Hale also claims Cushingberry made her run errands and prepare the taxes for him and his wife, while she was being paid by the city.

"I do he and Maria's tax preparation," Wiley Hale said on tape.

Cushingberry told city investigators that Wiley Hale left his staff because she didn't want to do the work he assigned her.

"The reason I had to terminate - or allow let her contract expire - is because she performed important bookkeeping work for me," he is recorded as saying. "And she didn't want to do that anymore because she said it was too stressful.

"Well, I didn't have anything else for her to do. So I didn't fire her, I gave her notice that if she changed her mind, she could come and stay with us, come and work for us forever and she didn't want to."

Cushingberry protested that Wiley Hale turned against him, but he never says why. 

"So would you consider you all to be friends?" asked a city worker on tape.

"Yes, that's why it hurts me so much," Cushingberry is recorded as saying. "We had a multi-level relationship and that was 2008, 2007.  So we've had this relationship for a decade but it hasn't been sexual in years - if it ever was. That's all I'm trying to tell you."

The audio of the recording is garbled because the investigator had something on in the background while they were making that recording and from what Elrick can tell, the investigation was not all that thorough. 

Elrick reached out to Cushingberry and Brenda Jones who did not respond to requests for comment. The Mayor's office said that the Civil Rights and Inclusion Office investigated and turned it over to the city's Inspector General - and we have not heard back from the Inspector General.

Contact M.L. Elrick at ml.elrick@foxtv.com or 248-552-5261. Follow him on Facebook at "ML Elrick," on Twitter @elrick or on Instagram at "ml_elrick."