DETROIT (CN) – A former Service Employees International Union executive filed a $2 million defamation lawsuit claiming he was fired amid a widely reported harassment investigation even though his employee file shows that no female staffers ever accused him of misconduct.
Last year, SEIU officials responded to the #MeToo movement – which was spurred by allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein and other rich and powerful men – by encouraging staff to come forward if they had experienced harassment in the workplace.
The union appeared to clean house in October and November after it accepted the resignations of Executive Vice President Scott Courtney, Kendall Fells and Caleb Jennings amid allegations of misconduct toward female staffers. All three men were national leaders of campaigns to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, called Fight for $15.
Detroit Director Mark Raleigh, who was also behind the minimum wage campaign, says he too was swept up in the investigation and fired.
Now, in a defamation complaint filed Monday in Detroit federal court, Raleigh suggests he was the victim of SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry’s fervor to associate herself with a burgeoning movement.
Raleigh, who was fired in November while on medical leave, claims he has obtained an investigation file that proves that no women had made sexual misconduct allegations against him. In spite of that, Raleigh was mentioned in news articles published by Politico, Buzzfeed, Fox News, Bloomberg and other outlets as being part of a sexual misconduct investigation, according to his complaint.
“Mary Kay Henry, the president of the union’s two million mostly female membership, apparently decided that this would be a good opportunity to increase her stature, her political visibility, and hide her own transgressions and prior sheltering of alleged misconduct if her union publicly identified and fired male harassers within her organization,” the 12-page lawsuit states.
Represented by attorney Raymond Sterling of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Raleigh seeks $2 million in damages, alleging violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and violation of the duty to indemnify and defend.
Neither Sterling nor Raleigh immediately responded to requests for comment Tuesday.
SEIU spokeswoman Sara Lonardo said that after reviewing the lawsuit, the union believes it is “without merit” and stands by the investigation. Her prepared statement did not mention Raleigh by name.
“When credible questions were raised about the conduct of an SEIU officer, President Henry launched a thorough investigation. SEIU stands by this investigation and the actions we took as a result of information that surfaced from it,” Lonardo wrote in an email. “SEIU will continue to fight to ensure that all workers are treated with dignity and respect, and that SEIU staff have a workplace environment where all staff are respected, their contributions valued, and their voices heard.”
Before his Nov. 2 firing, Raleigh says SEIU officials never told him he was under investigation, and neither interviewed him nor any of the women he had worked with during his 20 years at the union.
He calls the probe a “sham” and says no women ever accused him of harassment or misconduct.
“The union misrepresented Raleigh’s role with the union and its campaigns to suit its own public relations narrative to the detriment of Raleigh,” the complaint states. “By naming Raleigh in the group of terminated employees, the union expressly or impliedly published to third parties that Raleigh was guilty of sexual misconduct.”
Another union spokeswoman, Sahar Wali, told Buzzfeed News at the time of Raleigh’s firing that it had taken action against two senior officials following an internal investigation.
“These personnel actions are the culmination of this stage of the investigation, which brought to light the serious problems related to abusive behavior towards staff, predominantly female staff,” Wali said.
SEIU is the second largest labor union in the nation and represents 2 million workers in the health care, public services, and property services sectors. Its members include nursing home workers, local and state government employees, janitors and food service workers.