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Former housekeeping director accused of sex-for-hire

On Thursday, a former zone manager in the housekeeping department filed a lawsuit against the University, specifically naming Darius Dixon, housekeeping services director; Gena Carter, senior director of employee and management relations; and Ben Triplett, assistant director of housing.

Clifton Leon Webb’s suit said former housekeeping services director Bill Burston would fire black housekeepers to bring in Asian housekeepers, who would reciprocate the new job with sexual favors for Burston. Webb said he was demoted and eventually fired for bringing this information to his superiors.

“Plaintiff noticed that Director Burston would terminate the employment of numerous black or African-American employees for pretextual reasons to create vacant positions in which to hire employees from Asian countries in exchange for sex and/or sexual favors,” the lawsuit reads.

Jim Gregory, a spokesman for the University, said it is UNC’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.

“We can’t provide any further details at this time,” Gregory said in an email.

The suit says Webb informed University ombudsman Wayne Blair about the situation, and the information of Burston’s hiring practices eventually made its way to Carolyn Elfland, former associate vice chancellor for facility services, and Ann Penn, former vice chancellor for Equal Employment Opportunity/American Disabilities Act.

After Webb made his observations known, the suit says the housekeeping department began to work to fire him.

“On information and belief, UNC-CH’s ‘reassignment’ of Plaintiff ... was a planned step taken by Defendants to ‘build a case’ against Plaintiff for the pretextual purpose of dismissing his employment without just cause,” the lawsuit said.

Burston was removed from his position as director — but was still working in some capacity at the University — in March of 2011, when PRM Consulting Group was brought in to review his department.

The group’s report gave more than 45 recommendations for change and led to the eventual firing of Burston from the University.

The report made no mention of Burston hiring anyone for sexual favors, even though the lawsuit states that Webb met with Patricia Thomas, the chief investigator from PRM, and informed her of Burston’s “sex-for-hire” practices.

The lawsuit said Webb was eventually fired in January 2014, after more than a couple years of demotions that he felt were unwarranted.

This is not the first time Burston’s actions have led to legal trouble for the University. In April 2013, the University lost a suit to Isabel Prudencio-Arias, a former housekeeper, who said her supervisor sexually harassed her. After she complained, Burston made her work life substantially more difficult.

“Burston’s harassment was unwelcome, hostile and sufficiently severe or pervasive to create an abusive working environment,” Arias’ suit said.

Maria Palmer, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council who helped Arias through the case, said Burston still returns to campus, to her astonishment.

She said Burston’s abuse left her client with deep scars.

“I have no doubt that everything about Mr. Bill Burston that was said was true,” she said.

Webb is represented by J. Heydt Philbeck — the same lawyer who won Willingham more than a third of a million dollars in her suit against the University.

The suit has six different causes of action, each with a price tag of more than $10,000 to settle the issue.

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CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story mischaracterized Maria Palmer’s legal experience. Palmer has been an advocate for former housekeeper Isabel Prudencio-Arias, and she helped her through the legal process. The story has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.