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2 women add to sex harassment claims against ex-DAC staffer

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A former employee of the Detroit Athletic Club accused of sexually harassing and stalking a female photographer who worked at the club also engaged in sexual misconduct against younger female workers, according to testimony filed in a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court's civil division.

Albert Kahn's 1915 Renaissance revival Detroit Athletic Club, shot from the roof of the Detroit Opera House.

The explosive details are contained in a deposition as part of the suit filed last December against the members-only club and former DAC employee Kenneth Voyles, who is accused of sexually harassing Cybelle Codish, a renowned photographer whose "livelihood, health, and safety were destroyed when she was sexually harassed" and then retaliated against by Voyles, according to her lawyer.

Voyles, the former DAC communications director, was editor and publisher of a newsletter for the club, which was founded in 1887 as an all-male organization and began admitting women as full members in 1986. Codish was a photographer for the DAC until 2019.

Codish's attorney, Jonathan Marko, said Voyles has a history of sexually harassing younger woman that was illegally covered up by the DAC.

In 2012, Voyles, who was around 60, "became infatuated" with two employees in their 20s and would intentionally go into their office and "position his genital area in the face of the young women," according to a deposition in the lawsuit provided to The News by Codish's lawyer.

The women reported the incidents to their manager, Andre Halston, with one telling him  that it “happens all the time and it's sickening where he puts his crotch right in my eye level and just stays there,” Halston testified in the deposition.  

  Halston testified that he saw such an incident on at least one occasion in 2013, calling it “very creepy” and “sexually inappropriate.”

"On another occasion, Voyles took over a hundred photos of the same women with whom he liked to put his penis in their face," Halston testified. "Voyles then hid in the shadows and waited for the women to walk away so he could satisfy his unpure desires, 'ogling' the girls from secret."

Halston man testified that he went to CEO/Executive Manager Ted Gillary about the women's concerns and his own, but that Gillary kept the harassment complaint against Voyles a secret and never contacted human resources.

The matter was never investigated nor was any documentation placed in Voyles' file, Halston said. 

In a deposition in July, Voyles said the young women were just having their pictures taken for staff purposes and that as they turned to leave the room where the pictures were taken, he had looked at them for a few seconds but had not done anything "inappropriate."

According to an email submitted with the deposition, Voyles wrote to the two women on May 8, 2018: “This is awkward … I have been seeking transformation in my life and reaching out to people who I have wronged … I just want to tell you just how sorry I  am for the way I treated you when you were working for me. It was not right of me or a true reflection of who I am or who I want to be.”

According to the deposition, despite the complaints against him, Voyles was not disciplined.

"The DAC never even investigated him," Marko said.  

The young women's former manager said he told Gillary that Voyles leered at the young, saying his action "was lecherous." 

Efforts to reach lawyers for the DAC and Voyles for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

A professional photographer who was named a Kresge Artist Fellow last year, Codish  sued the Detroit Athletic Club and Voyles, her former supervisor at the downtown facility, in December, alleging he sexually harassed her, then retaliated by canceling her assignments when she complained to human resources.

In her lawsuit, Codish, alleges that Voyles began pursuing her in 2018 and 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."

"She is credible, and everything she says is supported by voluminous documentation," Marko said.

In a Sept. 30, 2018, email submitted as an exhibit with the deposition, Voyles wrote to Codish: "I am so very sorry. I am broken inside by the fact that I acted towards in a way that was not right."

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" Voyles despite "her detailed and documented allegations of sexual harassment."

A resident of Canton, Voyles retired from his position at the DAC in March 2019.

Codish, who says she has lost $1.4 million in income and has had her career "destroyed," is seeking $2.9 million in the lawsuit.

"DAC maintained an environment and culture full of sexual harassment and discrimination in general and did nothing to protect Cybelle from Voyles when it had actual and constructive notice of Voyles’ reprehensible behavior towards women in general and Cybelle, in particular," Marko said.