NewsAround Acadiana


Former SMILE employee accuses Williams of sexual harassment

Posted at 12:15 PM, Feb 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-26 13:15:25-05

A former employee of the SMILE Community Action Agency has accused Chris Williams of forcing her to have sex with him while she worked for him.

The former employee, whom KATC will not identify because of the nature of the allegations, filed suit last month in federal court against Williams, the former CEO of the agency, and SMILE.

We’ve reached out to SMILE for a comment. We’ll update this story as soon as we receive a response.

Over the past several years, the embattled agency has faced numerous issues. Federal authorities pulled all of their Head Start funding – an estimated 90 percent of the agency’s budget – due to alleged shortcomings in SMILE’s administration of the program. The agency has been sued by former employees and board members. And, Williams was placed on leave in the midst of harassment claims. He later resigned.

The lawsuit indicates that the employee first took her complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated her allegations and gave her the required “right to sue” document.

The employee asks the court to order SMILE to stop the “unlawful practices, policies, customs and usages” alleged in the lawsuit; award her money for personal damages, and money for punitive damages; award her back pay; and order SMILE to pay all her expenses and attorney’s fees for the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Williams began to make unwanted advances against the woman the day he started working for SMILE in 2017. His verbal advances progressed into physical advances, and then to promises that he’d take care of her if she took care of him, the suit alleges.

The suit alleges that Williams told the woman he loved her, and threatened to get rid of her if she didn’t submit to his advances. He said that at least one board member “hated” her and wanted her “gone,” and that he’d let the board get rid of her if she didn’t submit. He also said other employees would receive raises, but she wouldn’t get one if she didn’t have a relationship. And, he demanded “loyalty,” the suit alleges.

Williams sent her home, telling her supervisor that he needed her to run an errand, and then he show up at her house and “manipulated (her) into providing sexual favors in exchange for promises of promotion, increased pay and job retention.” The lawsuit alleges that the employee was a single mother and was afraid to lose her job.

After the sexual encounter, the lawsuit alleges, Williams told her to go back to work and reminded her he wanted loyalty. When she got to work, she locked herself in the bathroom and washed herself, the lawsuit alleges.

“She felt humiliated,” the lawsuit alleges.

For the next 11 months, “Williams would either contact (her) by telephone, summon her to SMILE’s office or request that she go home for sexual favors as if she was his property, and as if he controlled her,” the lawsuit alleges. He once demanded oral sex in the SMILE conference room, the suit alleges.

But in August 2017, Williams told the employee she had been recommended for lay-off, but that she shouldn’t worry because “big daddy got you.”  When the final list came out and her name wasn’t on it, Williams told her that he took care of her and would continue to do so as long as she was loyal.

After almost two years of promises of increased pay and promotions that never materialized, the employee “realized she was just being used” and again tried to stop the relationship. A couple months later, she reported the harassment to two SMILE board members, Geri Brown and Mary Batiste.

Brown allegedly asked about the mechanics of their encounters, and told the employee to protect herself, implying that Williams would retaliate against her. Batiste said SMILE needed proof, and suggested that the employee was “liable” because she had a “choice.”

It was after that meeting that the employee got an attorney. After the attorney notified SMILE of her complaint, the lawsuit alleges, Williams called with a job offer and a pay increase, as well as a $10,000 payment to withdraw the complaint. Her promotion was approved, along with retroactive pay increase, the suit alleges, but the employee wouldn’t withdraw her complaint.

SMILE said it was conducting an investigation, but the suit alleges that no one was interviewed, other than the employee who made the complaint – not even Williams. Williams was placed on leave, and after he had left SMILE employees called the employee to tell her that they found a “voodoo doll with characteristics similar to (her) in Williams’ desk.”

The employee was so upset by the circumstances and the voodoo doll that she went to a doctor, who diagnosed her with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Her medical providers recommended she not return to SMILE for a period of time. The employee’s lawyer kept asking for an accommodation or for health leave, but despite numerous discussions SMILE never took action, the suit alleges. SMILE asked for documentation from her doctors, and three days later fired her, the suit alleges.