Nakamoto: New CATS manager was fired from previous government job, facing sexual harassment lawsuit
BATON ROUGE- The Capital Area Transit System (CATS) is again making questionable decisions with who leads the agency.
Board members tell WBRZ, CATS hired Keith Cunningham as the agency's interim CAO days ago. Cunningham most recently worked for the Louisiana Housing Corporation where he was sued by an employee accusing him of sexual harassment. Cunningham was fired from the position as the allegations came to light last year.
The lawsuit was originally filed in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge but was moved to federal court last year. Weeks ago, the employee alleging sexual harassment from Cunningham received her Notice of Right to Sue from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
According to the EEOC, someone hoping to file a lawsuit under federal law alleging discrimination must first have to file a charge with the EEOC. The EEOC will then give permission after concluding its own investigation, in the form of a Notice of Right to Sue to file a lawsuit in federal or state court.
In the lawsuit, the employee alleges Cunningham made repeated sexual advances to her, required her to meet with him in his office alone and attempted to touch her breasts. The lawsuit states the woman declined all of Cunningham's repeated sexual advances and reported it to agency attorneys, board members and Cunningham's direct supervisor. The lawsuit continued, Cunningham's sexual harassment did not end when complaints were filed.
CATS' hiring of Cunningham comes after the WBRZ Investigative Unit exposed CATS has been late paying the agency's health insurance premiums. Its comptroller, John Cutrone, also tested positive for methamphetamine in January and the bus system refused to enforce its zero-tolerance drug free policy. Cutrone has continued to be employed by CATS.
The situations are becoming increasingly frustrating for people who rely on the bus system, like rider Roy Thomas. Thomas told WBRZ Wednesday, he's ridden the bus his entire life and what is happening is nothing short of embarrassing.
"[CATS does] some messed up stuff," Thomas said. "They got other people who are ready and have potential. You need to hire them and get rid of the mother f****** that y'all got... real talk."
CATS board members echo those sentiments.
"I do believe in giving people a second chance, but I don't believe in hiring Mr. Cunningham," a board member said, who did not want to be identified. "It's not a good look to have someone employed in a manager position with a pending federal sexual harassment lawsuit. With all the issues that keep popping up at CATS that are negative, this is another black eye."
CATS did not respond to requests for comment before the story aired, but sent this statement shortly before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Mr. Keith Cunningham began working with CATS on March 24th of this year. He is primarily assisting the CEO with the duties of the CAO position.
Recent reporting shared details of accusations made against Mr. Cunningham in March 2021 while in his duties as the Executive Director of the Louisiana Housing Corporation. Unfortunately, the reports lacked the full facts and context of the matter. A 3rd party investigating firm retained by LHC, conducted a thorough and detailed investigation and finding no conclusive evidence to support the allegations, issued a report of no finding. CATS plays a vital role in the success of our communities.
Our team looks forward to continuing to serve the residents of the capital region and maintaining our promises to expand and enhance services in the years to come.
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