Louisiana housing agency leader faces sexual harassment claims

The leader of the state’s affordable housing agency has been suspended while he’s being investigated for allegations that he sexually harassed an employee, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office confirmed today.

Louisiana Housing Corporation Executive Director Keith Cunningham was placed on administrative leave with pay last Wednesday pending the outcome of the investigation, says Christina Stephens, Edwards’ spokesperson.

Cunningham was placed on leave by the interim president of the corporation’s board of directors, after consulting with the governor’s Division of Administration, Stephens says. The governor appoints a majority of the housing corporation’s governing board.

Cunningham is accused of “unwelcomed and unabated sexual harassment” of an assistant at the housing corporation from January 2017 through this year, according to a letter from W. Brett Conrad Jr., a lawyer representing the worker who accused Cunningham of the harassment.

A copy of the March 24 letter, sent to the housing agency’s executive counsel and obtained by the Associated Press, outlines the allegations against Cunningham. The employee claims that Cunningham propositioned her for sex on a monthly basis, attempted to touch her breasts, commented on her body in a “sexually charged manner” and threatened her because she wouldn’t have sex with him.

Conrad says the employee faced financial retaliation from Cunningham because she refused his advances, and the letter alleges that the worker repeatedly reported the harassment to other people at the housing corporation, who did nothing in response to the claims.

Email and phone messages left with the Louisiana Housing Corporation weren’t immediately returned today. It wasn’t clear if Cunningham had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

The Louisiana Housing Corporation was created in 2011 to oversee the spending of federal and state dollars earmarked to manage affordable and energy efficient housing assistance for low- and moderate-income residents.

Stephens says the governor’s office didn’t receive the letter detailing the harassment allegations until April 13 and immediately passed it along to the board chairman and the Division of Administration to make a decision about how to proceed.

A former leader of the Louisiana Housing Corporation, Frederick Tombar III, left the office in 2015 amid sexual harassment claims.