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Trial could shed light on Carl R. Greene's tumultuous PHA tenure

On one level, Greene v. Street, et al. is a contract dispute over money. Carl R. Greene is suing the Philadelphia Housing Authority for firing him as executive director on Sept. 23, 2010. He argues that PHA's commissioners had no cause and owe him $743,000 in lost pay and vacation time, plus damages.

Carl R. Greene says PHA commissioners owe him $743,000 in lost pay and vacation time, plus damages. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Carl R. Greene says PHA commissioners owe him $743,000 in lost pay and vacation time, plus damages. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)Read more

On one level, Greene v. Street, et al. is a contract dispute over money.

Carl R. Greene is suing the Philadelphia Housing Authority for firing him as executive director on Sept. 23, 2010. He argues that PHA's commissioners had no cause and owe him $743,000 in lost pay and vacation time, plus damages.

But the trial, scheduled for jury selection Monday, will revisit the tumultuous events in 2010 that led to the downfall of one of the most powerful public figures in Philadelphia.

The trial will detail what happened to Greene when he dropped from sight after a series of news reports in August 2010 disclosed not only his personal financial problems, but professional ones.

For the first time, Greene, 56, is expected to address allegations that he was an abusive executive who sexually harassed female staffers.

And the women who say they were victimized will also speak. The three who settled cases but were then sworn to silence by PHA have been called as defense witnesses. Five other former female employees also are expected to testify about alleged harassment.

The trial will also detail the rancorous split between Greene and PHA's chairman, former Mayor John F. Street.

A core question in the case will be what Street knew of sexual-harassment complaints against Greene and the settlements in those matters - and when.

Greene's lawyer, Clifford Haines, said the lawsuit was "not a gender-harassment case."

"This is a case about whether Carl Greene was afforded the due process he was entitled to and whether the PHA cobbled together manufactured reasons for firing Carl," he wrote in an e-mail.

"No one disputes that PHA had the power to terminate Carl Greene's employment; how and the real reason they did it is the issue," Haines said.

The PHA's attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Greene said in a deposition the public airing of his problems led to depression and damaged his reputation so much that he cannot find work. At the time of Greene's dismal, Street told reporters Greene was a "serial sexual harasser" and the "Tiger Woods of public housing."

"It's hard, you know, because all everybody's got to do is go on the Internet and type in my name and hear all of John Street's tapes," Greene said in a deposition on April 7.

Greene's original complaint was broader than just a breach-of-contract allegation, including charges of defamation and the denial of his constitutional rights to defend his reputation.

But U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter threw out the defamation and civil rights claims in August. With only the breach-of-contract issue, the trial is expected to last three weeks.

The case will focus on whether the board was justified in firing Greene under the terms of his contract. Only one commissioner - City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell - voted in Greene's favor.

The reasons cited for Greene's termination were:

His personal financial troubles.

Four sexual-harassment complaints and the circumstances surrounding their settlements.

A hostile work environment.

"The unapproved abandonment of his duties."

In a deposition on March 14, Street said he and the other commissioners were intentionally kept in the dark by Greene about the sexual-harassment settlements. Four women eventually were paid a total of more than $1 million.

But Greene claimed in his deposition he privately told Street about at least one of the settlements in 2008.

Through its insurance company, PHA has already spent $800,000 on its defense in the Greene v. Street et al. lawsuit. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pressured the PHA board to resign on the grounds the agency was an administrative wreck.

HUD, which provides almost all of PHA's funding, placed the authority in receivership and appointed as its sole commissioner Estelle Richman, a former HUD official who is well-known in city and state political circles.

The lawsuit has produced hours of depositions and thousands of pages of filings, shedding light on what was happening behind the scenes in the weeks leading up to Greene's dismal from his $306,000-a-year job.

Greene captained PHA for nearly 13 years and successfully marshaled federal funding to replace decrepit public housing high-rises with more livable communities. In the process, PHA became a formidable developer and Greene its influential chief.

But the beginning of the end began with a brief news report on Aug. 13, 2010, about Wells Fargo Bank foreclosing on Greene's luxury condominium in the Naval Square development in Southwest Center City.

After that, news outlets reported the Internal Revenue Service had earlier placed a lien on the same property.

But those revelations were just a prelude to the sexual-harassment bombshell.

A letter from the lawyer for Elizabeth Helm, one of the women, was disclosed to the media, detailing the "intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment" Greene allegedly created.

According to legal discovery in the case, as the bad news kept coming, Greene was sequestered in his house.

He did not answer calls from staff. He did not reply to e-mails from Street. He called in sick.

In his deposition, he said Street wanted him to hold a news conference to address the allegations. "I couldn't do it," he said.

Neither could he bring himself to address the board. "Can you understand mental illness?" Greene said. "I was sick."

On Aug. 20, Greene eventually gave a series of one-on-one interviews with at least 10 news outlets. He retreated again.

His friend and outside counsel for PHA, James J. Eisenhower, went to check on Greene at his home, according to a recent filing. Eisenhower, a partner with the law firm Schnader Harrison, said he found Greene in poor mental and physical condition.

Eisenhower kept Street abreast of Greene's state, documents say. On Aug. 22, he drove Greene to a psychiatric hospital near Baltimore, where the PHA chief stayed for three weeks.

Eisenhower also contacted Haines, a former Philadelphia prosecutor, and asked him to represent Greene. After visiting Greene at the hospital, Haines took him on as a client.

The PHA board placed Greene on administrative leave on Aug. 26, pending an investigation of his actions. While still in the hospital, Greene filed the federal complaint through Haines.

After he was discharged on Sept. 15, Greene said he moved into a Marriott Residence Inn in Maryland for several months.

Greene said he was "living in fear. Absolutely frightened out of my mind, is what I was doing there."

Part of Greene's argument against PHA will be that the two authors of a critical internal report for the board - Street and his administrative assistant, Kafi Lindsay - were not neutral investigators.

Depositions and court filings disclose that PHA had asked Eisenhower to hire a private eye to tail Lindsay to see whether she was showing up for work. A draft of the private eye's report was finished the same month Greene's problems became public and he dropped from public view.

Lindsay, a lawyer, was hired despite objections from Greene, who said Street's part-time assignment as chairman did not warrant a full-time assistant.

Though Greene said in his deposition that he did not personally ask Eisenhower to hire the investigators, he confirmed that he was aware of the probe. A draft of the report concluded Lindsay's attendance at PHA was "sporadic."

Greene now lives in Decatur, Ga.

He said he had had difficulty finding work, having applied for more than 50 jobs in finance, accounting, and technology at places like Emory University and Coca-Cola Co. Before he was fired, he said, he was in talks with the housing authority in Washington about working there.

But those discussions came to a halt.

Greene said he had tried to line up consulting work with public housing officials in Pittsburgh and Newark, N.J.

But he was told he could not be hired until he cleared the air of lingering sexual-harassment allegations.