Rachel Roberts, a young project manager at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, had accused the agency's executive director, Carl Greene, of sexual harassment.

It was late 2004. An investigation was ordered, and the results were in. Roberts was summoned to a conference room at a Center City law firm. Across from her sat two attorneys.

She remembers that the meeting took less than 10 minutes. There were no questions, no explanations.

Her claim of sexual harassment: "Unsubstantiated."

Her claim of a hostile workplace: "Uncorroborated."

As she walked back to her office at PHA, Roberts, then 31, felt defeated, exposed, and alone, she recalled.

She had no way of knowing that the same law firm had reached the same conclusion in an almost identical complaint filed against Greene three years earlier. Or that over the next few months, two other women would level similar allegations against Greene, this time taking their cases to outside agencies and eventually negotiating cash payments.

With Greene now fired over accusations that he was a "serial sexual predator" - in the words of his own board - the cases of Roberts and the woman who filed the complaint in 2001 loom large for several reasons.

In both instances, the agency and its hired lawyers conducted formal inquiries and ended up dismissing the complaints. As significant, both cases echoed a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed against Greene by a subordinate when he led the housing authority in Detroit - an allegation that trailed him to Philadelphia and was publicly known when he was hired in 1998.

What is not known is whether PHA, through its human-resources department or its legal counsel, instituted any changes in light of the mounting complaints. Agency officials declined to comment Thursday.

One of the central players to emerge from PHA's own investigation is lawyer Mark J. Foley, who represented Greene in the two cases that were found to be unsubstantiated and who hired the law firm that conducted the investigation. He later played a key role in negotiating cash settlements with two of the four women who have filed complaints. To date, $648,000 has been paid to settle three cases, while an offer of $250,000 is pending in a fourth.

Foley, now with Cozen O'Connor, declined repeated requests to comment over the last week.

Clifford Haines, an attorney for Greene, also declined to discuss the complaints. "We do not intend to engage in a 'she said, he said' in the newspaper," Haines said.

A review of internal documents prepared for the board this week lays out a timeline that begins in 2001, when a computer-services manager, Renee Yue, complained of sexual harassment by Greene. She cited inappropriate comments and relentless invitations to socialize after work.

The complaint, like the others that followed, was known to only a small circle of people inside PHA. Neither human-resources managers nor legal staff nor outside lawyers took steps to alert the board of settlements, let alone the filing of complaints. Under state and federal law, human-resources managers and attorneys are charged with protecting workers from discrimination and harassment.

Marina Angel, a Temple University law professor and expert on employment issues, said the first Supreme Court decision on sexual harassment, in 1986, found that an organization has to have an adequate system for reporting harassment.

"You've got to be able to make an appeal beyond the harasser," Angel said.

Ultimately, board members should be held accountable, she said, for the mess at PHA.

"They're trying to absolve themselves of responsibility by blaming everyone else," she said. "But they're the only group with direct supervisory power."

Unwanted pressure

For Rachel Roberts, things didn't feel right at PHA from the beginning.

Roberts, who is speaking out for the first time, is 37 and has two master's degrees. She began working at the housing agency in February 2004 as a project manager in the organizational-development department.

Her account is based on interviews with Roberts and others, a review of a journal she kept at the time, and the PHA report on her complaint.

Two weeks after she joined, a group of six coworkers went out for drinks with Greene at Alma de Cuba on Walnut Street. Coworkers briefed her on how to survive Greene: You can't leave until he leaves, and if you refuse to go out for drinks, you risk public humiliation or, worse, his wrath.

At the restaurant, Roberts was conscious of the time and eager to get home to her husband, a full-time graduate student, and their young son. Greene insisted she stay and ordered her another drink. Roberts, who is white, is married to an immigrant from West Africa. When Greene heard this, she said, he put an arm around her and said, "You don't mind a brother hugging up on you?"

The gesture made Roberts cringe. Greene later denied to investigators that he had made the remark.

Roberts said Greene frequently had made inappropriate comments about her marriage, once saying, "I guess if I had it my way, you'd be divorced." She said he often would ask her why her husband would not "let her out for drinks."

When Roberts was three months on the job, Greene suggested that she could be promoted, but that such decisions were usually made after hours over drinks. She said he also had held out the possibility that if she became his executive assistant, she could almost double her salary to $90,000.

Roberts said the pressure to socialize had been incessant. "I was a wreck," she said. With primary child-care responsibility for her son, she told Greene flat out, "I will never be able to go out."

That was a turning point, she said. She no longer reported to Greene and was reassigned to the department handling grants and economic development. She said she had been given assignments with unrealistic deadlines. "I thought I was being set up to be fired," Roberts said.

Shaken at EEOC

Fearing that, she filed an internal sexual-harassment complaint May 28. She met with general counsel Fred Pasour and human-resources manager and lawyer Sibyl Bryant - two officials cited by the PHA board as part of a cover-up of Greene's misconduct.

The next day, Roberts went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a similar federal complaint. She told an intake officer that she worked at PHA and wanted to file a sexual-harassment complaint.

"Against Carl Greene?" the woman said without prompting.

"You know him?"

"Everyone knows him."

Roberts was so unnerved by the exchange, she said, that she left and never followed through with a federal or state complaint. "You're led to believe that he's untouchable," Roberts said, "that he owns this town."

A decision on her complaint came down Aug. 25. Two months later, her six-person department was transferred from headquarters in Center City to the Abbotsford housing project in North Philadelphia - a relocation viewed by the entire staff as retaliation.

Roberts held on to her job for two more years before leaving for a nonprofit. She said the episode had scarred her.

"Throughout this whole ordeal," Roberts said, "I kept hoping that somebody, anybody, would break rank, gain a conscience, and help me to expose this man."

Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.