Housing authority lawsuit case set for trial

Housing authority lawsuit case set for trial
January 19
08:00 2017



A $25 million lawsuit against the Lexington Housing Authority and its former executive director will finally go to trial on Jan. 23 in Davidson County. The suit by five former LHA maintenance employees alleges that they were terminated unjustly by then Executive Director Terrance Alexander Gerald, further accusing him of libel, slander and negligence.

The LHA, a public housing agency helping low-income residents affiliated with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Gerald, have denied any wrongdoing

Gerald lives in Kernersville, and stepped down as LHA executive director in May 2016. The suit was originally filed in Forsyth Superior Court in April 2012, but then involuntarily dismissed there in September 2012.

The suit was later moved to Davidson County, where the trial begins next week. The lawsuit seeks $5 million in compensatory damages for each of the five plaintiffs, in addition to $10,000 each in punitive damages.

The plaintiffs – Clifton Craven, Robert Moore, Thomas Wall, Jeremy Walser and Juan Small – are represented by Winston-Salem attorneys Harvey Kennedy and Harold Kennedy III.

The suit accuses Gerald of publishing “false and slanderous” statements about the five LHA employees to the LHA Board of Commissioners in August–September 2011, accusing them of stealing property, and taking two weeks to renovate a one-bedroom apartment, labeling them “dishonest” and ‘incompetent.”

“…[T]hese false and slanderous statements were published in the minutes of the LHA, and constitute libel per quod in that plaintiffs suffered special damages … including termination of their employment from LHA as well as loss of earnings and benefits,” the lawsuit continued.

Attorneys for the LHA and Gerald, in a July 2012 answer to the lawsuit filed in court, not only denied the allegations, but asked for a change of venue to Davidson County, which was granted.

According to attorneys Patrick Flanagan and Kelly Beth Smith of Charlotte, the plaintiffs’ accusations have little weight because LHA, and Gerald by extension, have special immunities as governmental and public officials. Flanagan and Smith asked the Forsyth County Superior Court to dismiss the suit, or move the proceedings to Davidson County.

In published reports, Gerald has previously stated that the five plaintiffs were actually laid off in November 2011 because the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development was reducing its housing authority budget by $1 billion, this the LHA cuts were made in its maintenance division.

By contracting out its maintenance needs to private companies, Gerald said the LHA saved approximately $200,000 to $300,000 annually. He maintains that the contractors were selected through a formal bidding process, though the lawsuit alleges that a friend was actually hired.

Interestingly, the suit also claims negligence on the Lexington Housing Authority’s part for hiring Terrance Gerald in the first place.

The lawsuit alleges Gerald, who had over 10 years experience working for housing authorities in Winston-Salem, Wilson and Durham, was fired by the Durham Housing Authority in April 2009 over alleged improper usage of an agency credit card for “personal items.”

In published reports, Gerald said the items returned were actually books. His case was dismissed in May 2010 after he appealed his termination. When the LHA Board hired him in November 2010, Gerald said a thorough background check was done, as required by federal regulations, and he was cleared. Gerald said no credit card fraud was involved, and he was chosen unanimously over 30 other applicants for the job.

Plaintiffs attorneys have subpoenaed Gerald’s personnel records from the Durham Housing Authority, but its lawyers have resisted certain materials.

Calls to some of the attorneys mentioned in this story were not returned by press time Tuesday.

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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