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Public housing chief suspended amid allegations of harassment, bullying

December 11, 2013

Kulik appears in background of recent photo at new assisted living units in St. Germain Manor. (Photo/Ernest A. Brown)

WOONSOCKET – The executive director of the Woonsocket Housing Authority has been placed on unpaid leave amid allegations of “bullying” workers and making offensive remarks to female workers.
The Board of Housing Commissioners suspended Kulik for 30 days and ordered him to seek sensitivity training before he’s allowed to return to work, on probation, Jan. 2, sources close to the commission told The Call.
The WHA’s director of security, Robert Moreau, who is also a member of the City Council, and the WHA’s administrator for human resources, Christine O’Connor, have temporarily been named co-directors of the agency in Kulik’s absence.
“I’ve been directed not to comment because it’s a personnel matter,” said Moreau.
Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, said Kulik was suspended by the board following an investigation that began with a complaint filed by John Burns, a staff representative for Rhode Island Council 94 AFSCME Local 1793. The bargaining unit represents most of the roughly 45 workers employed by the WHA, headquartered at 679 Social St.
The complaint was withdrawn by the union on condition that the seven-member board of housing commissioners initiated an investigation into the allegations outlined in the complaint.
The Call obtained a copy of the complaint, which sets forth a laundry list of grievances against Kulik.
The complaint is titled, “Intimidation of Employees; Harassment of Employees; Bullying Employees; Targeting Employees; Verbal Abuse of Employees.”
Among other things, Kulik allegedly “told an expectant employee to go to her doctor because she was having ‘hormonal problems,’” the complaint says.
It also asserts that Kulik made “vulgar and offensive comments to female employees about their clothing.”
Another worker complained of being “ridiculed” by Kulik for taking sick time after undergoing surgery for a medical problem.
Workers were also said to be in fear of being fired, denigrated as “useless,” told they were “lucky to have a job,” or sworn at by Kulik in front of other employees. The complaint says Kulik bragged that he could jump seniority to let workers go because “I can. I am the Executive Director.”
“Morale of employees at a record low – employees seeking employment elsewhere,” AFSCME asserted.
Reached by telephone, Kulik declined to comment on his employment status or the AFSCME-driven investigation.
“I don’t know who told you,” he said, “It’s all been done in executive session.”
Burns declined to comment on the complaint, saying, “The director is not a member of the union. The housing authority took some personnel action. You have to talk to them.”
During the investigation triggered by the complaint, nearly the entire staff of the WHA was interviewed. The investigation reportedly found cause to discipline Kulik for improperly fostering a hostile work environment.
The source said the alleged offenses did not rise to the level of sexual harassment, though some of the complainants were women who claimed Kulik’s remarks were gender-specific.
Kulik, 65, has served as executive director of the WHA since March 2006. Previously Kulik had served as personnel director at City Hall for three years and before that, as human services director from 1995 to 1998. He had also been employed previously by the housing authority as a manager from 1985 to 1995. He was an elected member of the Woonsocket School Committee from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.
As director, he runs the third-largest housing authority in the state, with some 1,300 units of rent-subsidized housing for low-income families, senior citizens and the disabled. In September, the WHA won the 2013 Pioneer in Housing Award from the prestigious national housing consultants Nan McKay & Associates for converting 50 units of St. Germain Manor into a discount assisted living center, a program Kulik had championed.
The WHA is considered a hybrid municipal-federal entity, governed by a board of appointees selected by the mayor. It gets most of its funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Neither Bernadette Rochefort, vice chairman of the board of commissioners, nor Joseph Rodio, legal counsel to the panel, would comment on Kulik’s status.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo

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