UPDATE: This article was corrected to show that Barboa was moved from her position on July 19, 2019 not 2017 as mentioned in print and earlier post. The Courier regrets the error.
A city of Hinesville employee has filed a sexual harassment complaint against City Manager Kenneth Howard. In addition, the complaint alleges Howard, as well as city employees Holly Fields and Niesha Williams and councilwoman Vicky Nelson, retaliated against the woman after she reported the harassment.
In the complaint, filed Oct. 11 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Danyell Barboa alleges Howard made sexual advances toward her from April 2017 to June 2017.
Barboa claims Howard promised her pay raises while asking what she said were unprofessional and inappropriate questions about her personal life. She said the incidents made her feel uncomfortable.
Howard, as well as Fields, Williams and Nelson, denied the allegations. Howard questioned their timing.
“Danyell Barboa wanted to interview for the position of executive director for the Downtown Development Authority,” Howard said in a written statement. “She did not have the experience for the job. She was not qualified for the job and had not formally applied for the job. I refused to interview her for the above stated reasons, couple with the fact that it was an HDDA board decision. After my refusal to interview her and after the HDDA hired another candidate, then the attacks and baseless allegations outlined in Danyell Barboa’s complaint started. It is important to point out that these false allegations date back to June of 2017. Why are they only now being brought forward after my refusal to help her get a high paying job that she was not qualified for? The appropriate authorities will conduct a full and thorough investigation into this matter in which I will fully cooperate. I look forward to the truth of that investigation being made available for public consumption.”
According to the EEOC complaint, Barboa alleges that on one occasion in June 2017, Howard cornered her in her office and attempted to pull her close.
She said she pushed Howard away and refused his advances. When Howard left the office she locked the door and called her husband to come pick her up.
Barboa claims Howard used his key to enter her office and again made advances, and only left because she told him her husband was on his way to get her.
A coworker of Balboa, Alyssa McDuffie, an intern during the time the incidents allegedly took place, backed several of Barboa’s allegations.
In her statement, McDuffie said around June 14, 2017 she heard a rumor Howard was telling others that it was Barboa who made the advances toward him, and Howard, Williams and Barboa met that day to discuss the matter.
In her complaint, Barboa said, “Howard admitted that he was in fact the one who made the advances toward me. And admitted that he made a mistake but stated he could not help himself because he found me attractive.”
According to Barboa’s complaint, Williams said the meeting should be documented. Barboa said she saw Williams hand a document to Howard and file a copy in a file cabinet.
However, the city was not able to produce any documents regarding the June 14, 2017 meeting after the Courier filed an open records request. The city said Barboa made an informal complaint and that, “all parties involved met and verbally solved the issue/concerns.”
Williams said Barboa’s complaint is a fabrication.
“I have read the complaint of Danyell Barboa and it is substantially false,” Williams said in a statement. “I have worked at the City of Hinesville for 12 years and have performed my duties in a professional manner. I have never retaliated against Ms. Barboa or any other city employee.”
Fields also denied claims she and Howard had an inappropriate relationship, and that she retaliated against Barboa by removing items from her office, damaging items in her office, denying her time off, pay raises and making it difficult for her to do her job. Barboa said she filed a grievance against Fields that Howard later said was unfounded.
Fields said she plans on taking legal action.
“In Alyssa McDuffie’s Affidavit, she stated that she witnessed me removing pertinent files from Danyell Barboa’s office, pouring oil all over Danyell’s desk and having a flirty and sexual conversation with Mr. Howard. It did not happen, and all of those statements are lies and a total fabrication,” Fields said. “I consider Ms. Barboa’s and Ms. McDuffie’s untrue statements to be an unwarranted attack on me and my family which amount to defamation of my character. I will pursue legal action to protect me and my family from these untrue statements. I look forward to this matter being fully investigated.”
Barboa said on July 19, 2019 she was abruptly transferred from her position as a human resources administrator to a new position as a Homeless Prevention Program administrator. She said she was told to turn in her keys and pack up her personal belongings as if she was being fired. She said the experience was humiliating.
Barboa said Nelson tried to convince her to not file the complaint and told her she was not being retaliated against nor was she the victim of harassment. Barboa’s complaint said Nelson was complicit in the retaliation and asked that Nelson be recused from the entire investigation.
Nelson denied the allegations.
“I am a city councilwoman and it is my job to faithfully represent the citizens of my district,” Nelson replied. “I do that every day to the best of my ability. It is not in my job description to manage the City employees; however, Ms. Barboa approached me and expressed that she wanted to be moved to community development and it is my understanding she was moved to that department. As a councilwoman, I try to help and advance the position of my constituents and I will continue to do so as long as I have the privilege of serving them.”
Howard is one of seven men indicted in April in Macon as a result of a prostitution sting in Fort Valley. The city has stood behind the city manager since charges were filed.