Photographer sues Detroit Athletic Club, alleges sex harassment

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News
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A photographer who was named a Kresge Artist Fellow for this year is suing the Detroit Athletic Club and her former supervisor at the downtown facility, alleging he sexually harassed her, then retaliated by canceling her assignments when she complained to human resources.

Cybelle Codish's lawsuit, filed Monday in Wayne County Circuit Court, alleges that DAC staff member Kenneth Voyles committed "perverse and inappropriate sexual behavior toward Plaintiff, which included perverse romantic letters, gifts, and poems delivered to her personal residence, text messages, notes, emails, and conversations on numerous occasions."

The suit alleges that Codish reported Voyles' actions to the DAC's head of human resources, and that the club "initially refused to act or discipline" her supervisor despite "her detailed and documented allegations of sexual harassment."

Attorney Jonathan Marko of Marko Law, holds a press conference for his client Cybelle Codish, who accusesd her former supervisor at the Detroit Athletic Club of sexual harassment.

A request for comment sent via Facebook to Voyles was not immediately returned.

Ted Gillary, executive manager of the DAC, said in a statement that the suit's allegations "are without legal merit."

"We intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit," Gillary said. "Many of the statements alleged in the complaint are inaccurate and false. However, we do not intend to argue this in a public forum.

"We will follow the legal process and are confident that we will be exonerated."

The DAC, which dates to 1887, is known for being an elegant gathering place for downtown decision makers and suburban professionals, and for its landmark, Albert Kahn-designed building on Madison Street.

During a news conference Monday, Codish's attorney, Jonathan Marko, saidhis client was too upset and “scared” to attend .

"She's been through a lot," he said at his office in downtown Detroit.

But she is confident about her lawsuit, Marko said.

He said Codish's experience is “part of the Me Too movement we’ve heard about this past year.”

Marko said Codish's supervisor sent “package after package” to the woman’s residence, and that she, along with her attorney, tried to resolve the issue with the DAC before heading to court.

Codish also complained of receiving text messages, romantic letters and poems from Voyles, said Marko.

"This was not an easy decision,” he said.

According to the suit, Codish said she asked Voyles to stop sending things to her home and, in May 2018, that his behavior was making her uncomfortable. In July 2018, a club member and former board member, James Tignanelli, told Voyles in an email that his behavior was frightening an unnamed woman, according to the complaint.

After the email, Voyles "removed Plaintiff from three DAC events she was scheduled to photograph," the suit alleges.

 In late December, Voyles sent a large package to Codish's home "that included ten individual gifts, enlarged photographs that Plaintiff took for Defendant DAC and an 'apology letter' from him."

The suit alleges that as of January, Codish's "contract with Defendant DAC was breached and she lost all expectation of future business dealings, including monthly photography assignments and a proposed cookbook wherein she was to take all photographs."

Starting in 2013, Codish had earned an average of $70,000 a year taking photographs for the DAC, including making $83,000 in 2018, according to the lawsuit.

The suit claims the DAC sent Voyles to Italy as "discipline" and allowed him "to retire on his own terms and pen an open letter to the DAC regarding his departure."

Codish has taken photographs for publications including Rolling Stone, National Geographic and the Washington Post, according to the suit, and was one of 18 fellows awarded $25,000 grants in June by the Kresge Foundation for work in the literary and visual arts.

Her suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages from Voyles and the DAC.

A status conference has been scheduled for March 9 at 8 a.m. with Judicial Officer Leslie Kim Smith.

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