Suit: Ex-Detroit city councilman harassed female staffer

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

An ex-staffer is suing former Detroit City Councilman George Cushingberry, claiming he subjected her “to a sexually hostile work environment” for months.

Former Detroit City Council member George Cushingberry, Jr.

Among the accusations in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Cleo Wiley alleges Cushingberry in 2016 asked her to “get a room with a hot tub” and commented that her weight gain “looks good on you.”

Late that year, Wiley asserts the councilman was among a group of friends planning to travel to Florida for the holidays. But one of the companions told her Cushingberry intended to seek sex, prompting Wiley to cancel going, according to the court documents.

The councilman retaliated by cutting her weekly work hours from 40 to 18, the suit claims.

Cushingberry did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday night about the case.

But on his Facebook page, Cushingberry wrote: "Ms.Wiley is under the influence of legal pharmaceuticals that severely affects her behavior. Getting pimped by the side effects of percocet is no good for both sexes... #WeToo"

In December 2016, Wiley complained to Steve Grady, chief of staff for Detroit council president Brenda Jones. Wiley reported Grady told her “You are the third woman to have complained about Councilman Cushingberry’s inappropriate behavior,” but no action was taken to address the complaint, her lawyers said.

Reached Wednesday, Grady said he had just learned about the filing and “we do not comment on pending litigation.”

The filing also claims that after Cushingberry’s wife found a long black hair in their bed in February 2017, he accused Wiley of planting it “to ruin” his alleged affair with another female associate.

Wiley soon filed a formal complaint with the city’s group executive for civil rights, which spurred an investigation and officials interviewed Cushingberry, her attorneys assert.

The councilman fired Wiley and “further retaliated … by providing false information to the Unemployment Insurance Agency” to block benefits, the lawsuit said.  “He has also communicated to prospective employers the false statement that Wiley was insubordinate and that … was the reason for her termination.”

Wiley filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a right-to-sue letter, her lawyers said.

They argue that Cushingberry violated her rights and caused humiliation and embarrassment as well as emotional distress. She seeks at least $25,000 plus interest, costs and attorney fees, according to the suit.

Reached Wednesday evening, city spokesman John Roach told The Detroit News: “The Civil Rights and Inclusion Office conducted a full investigation into this matter and forwarded the investigation to the Office of the Inspector General.  Beyond that, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

Cushingberry, who was elected to the council in 2013 and failed to place in the general election after a primary loss in 2017, faced other troubles during his short tenure.

During a 2014 stop outside a bar, police allegedly found a cup of liquor and a half-smoked marijuana cigarette in his car. He was issued a ticket for failure to signal but not given a field sobriety test. A probe concluded there was not enough evidence to suggest he sought preferential treatment from investigators.

He also had his law license suspended twice while in office, though Cushingberry has said the issues that sparked the suspensions occurred before then.

The former state representative and Wayne County commissioner has noted the suspensions were irrelevant because he could not practice law as a council member.

“I have never been convicted of any crime or any drunk driving offense or any serious traffic offense,” Cushingberry told The News in 2017.

He was defeated in the August 2017 primary for Council District 2, placing third with 19.7 percent of the vote and failing to qualify to appear on the general election ballot that fall. 

Cushingberry later was among write-in candidates who had combined to receive less than 3 percent of the vote in the district. Retired police officer Roy McCalister Jr. was elected to represent that area, which covers part of the city's northwest side, including Palmer Park and Rosedale Park.