MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - An employee of the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority VIII has filed a federal sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit. Philana Harrell accuses executive director Jessie Billups of making unwanted sexual advances. Harrell's lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on February 16. Harrell is seeking unspecified monetary damages for lost wages, emotional distress, past and future medical expenses, as well as punitive damages.
Harrell alleges Billups made sexual advances to her last fall and when she rejected those advancements, Billups retaliated, cut her pay, demoted her and created a hostile work environment by encouraging other employees to be hostile toward her. Harrell is still working at the Region 8 Housing Authority and told WLOX News Now she endures daily harassment because of her allegations.
In an email to WLOX News Now, Harrell said: "I have endured 5 plus months of retaliation, indirect and direct harassment through various employees that Jessie Billups uses, been diagnosed with major depression and PTSD."
Harrell's suit names the MRHA board, accusing members of failing to act on her complaints against Billups. MRHA Board Member Allytra Perryman referred comment to the board's attorney Paul Delcambre.
"There has been an investigation. We think the suit is without merit based on our investigation," Delcambre told WLOX News Now.
Delcambre added the MRHA board "investigated and acted on" Harrell's complaint.
In emails to WLOX News Now, Harrell said he had taken her complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offices in Jackson and Atlanta but received no relief. She also alleged others have suffered similar harassment.
"This is an ongoing issue within our agency as well as many more. The harassment, hostile work environment, and overall abuse of power and intimidation are overwhelming," Harrell said.
A lawsuit is one side of a legal argument.