Armstrong Williams, a media entrepreneur and central figure in the failed presidential campaign of Ben Carson, stands accused of sexual harassment and retaliation from a former sales associate at a local Jos. A. Bank store.
Charlton Woodyard, in a complaint lodged in D.C. federal court, seeks unspecified damages from Williams for seeking to “control Mr. Woodyard financially, professionally, and emotionally.” The end result of this effort, notes the suit, was that Williams “abused his power to attempt to exploit [Woodyard] sexually.” The sequence of events outlined in the complaint starts in the spring of 2013, when Woodyard was 26 and working at Union Station’s Jos. A. Bank. Williams struck up a conversation with the sales associate and invited him early the next morning to his office, where they worked together for the whole day. Williams is a Sirius XM radio host and owner of seven television stations across the country.
Not long thereafter, Woodyard bagged his job selling much-derided discount suits, a step that Williams allegedly “enticed” him to take, according to the complaint. What followed is a baroque sequence of allegations against Williams: First, he “assured” Woodyard that he’d thrive if he followed his career advice; he paid for some of Woodyard’s expenses — some meals, dry cleaning, Uber, for example — though stopped short of placing him on the payroll; he set up a private meeting for Woodyard with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; he insisted that Woodyard accompany him to workouts at Capitol Hill’s Results Gym, the locus for this particular detail in the complaint: “While at the gym, Mr. Williams pressured Mr. Woodyard to accompany him into the men’s steam room after exercising. Mr. Woodyard agreed but kept a towel wrapped around himself. Mr. Williams generally removed his towel and sat naked, exposing himself to Mr. Woodyard. Mr. Williams also made frequent remarks to Mr. Woodyard while naked in the steam room, about Greek and Roman bath houses.”
In the fall of 2013, Williams assisted Woodyard in securing a job at the Washington Times, thanks to a connection with then-top executive John Solomon. What happened after that? Very, very strange things, according to the complaint. Williams despaired that Woodyard was getting a life of his own and not spending sufficient quality time with him. So he rang up Solomon to protest that “Mr. Woodyard was not effective in his work at the Washington Times and had been given too much leeway in setting his work schedule.” While Williams issued these gripes to Solomon, Woodyard was in the same room as Williams, the suit states. “This call demonstrated to Mr. Woodyard that Mr. Williams had control over Mr. Woodyard’s employment at the Washington Times, and that he would not tolerate the fact that Mr. Woodyard had begun to find success independent of his patronage,” reads the complaint.
In November 2014, Solomon informed Woodyard that he’d likely fall victim to an upcoming round of staff reductions. To continue his livelihood, Woodyard proposed continuing to work with the Washington Times on a platform he planned to launch under the title “Washington Times Live.” The parties in April 2015 signed a memorandum of understanding for the product’s development, though the development phase left Woodyard without a steady source of income, claims the suit, which was drafted by Debra S. Katz of Katz Marshall & Banks.
So Woodyard reverted to dependence on Williams, who took his friend to the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner and even included him in discussions with presidential hopeful Carson. “Mr. Williams confided in Mr. Woodyard about his concerns with Dr. Carson’s candidacy, including calling Dr. Carson ‘slow’ and ‘naïve’ and stating that he believed Dr. Carson lacked business savvy,” reads the complaint. Williams has served as Carson’s “business manager” and was widely quoted during the campaign.
Mixed into all these professional events were Williams’s alleged sexual advances, including one episode in which the radio host allegedly acted like this:
After Mr. Woodyard entered Mr. Williams’s bedroom to discuss business, Mr. Williams asked Mr. Woodyard: “why are you wearing so many layers?” When Mr. Woodyard responded that he was “freezing,” Mr. Williams replied that that he’s “got the heat” and that his “heat is better” than clothes for keeping him warm. Mr. Woodyard ignored the comment, as well as the grunting noises Mr. Williams was making, and instead tried to talk about ways in which Mr. Williams could support Washington Times Live.
At one point, Williams allegedly “grabbed Mr. Woodyard’s penis through his pants and said to him, “you got small feet, small hands… and an oversized weapon. How does that work? How is that possible?” Woodyard pushed away.
More convoluted interactions and negotiations landed Woodyard a job in Birmingham, Ala., with television stations — principally WSES-TV — owned by Williams’s Howard Stirk Holdings II LLC. He was tasked “with engaging other media outlets in order to collaborate on content and otherwise promote HSH’s name and brand,” the suit alleges. Things went abysmally, according to the suit, which outlines nothing but demotions and demeaning behavior by Woodyard’s supervisors at the company. In early May, Woodyard signed a termination agreement, though he subsequently attempted to revoke it.
Based on the foregoing, the suit alleges sex-discrimination violations of the D.C. Human Rights Act as well as assault, battery and tortious interference with Woodyard’s arrangements with the Washington Times, among other counts.
In 1997, Williams was sued by a former producer who alleged that the media figure “repeatedly kissed and fondled him for almost two years,” according to a Post account at the time. Fitness was also featured in those allegations, as the plaintiff in the case was a trainer before Williams drafted him for work with his radio show. The parties settled the dispute.
That two-decade-old proceeding may well have played a role in Woodyard’s complaint, Williams told the Erik Wemple Blog this afternoon. “He’s trying to get paid,” said Williams, who claims to have rebuffed attempts by Woodyard’s counsel to quietly resolve the matter. “Something like this was filed against me before. . . . He’s trying to follow the same script,” he said. Contrary to the allegations in the suit, Williams argued that he had a good relationship with Woodyard and stressed that he didn’t employ him until November 2015. Nor does he deny having hosted Woodyard at his house — a period of months during which Woodyard had issues with his family, said Williams.
Marques Mullings, executive vice president of Howard Stirk Holdings, tells this blog: “I was the direct supervisor at the time and we had an employee that didn’t perform the duties that an employee should.”