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Wilmington City Councilman accused of sexual, racial harassment in suit against City

At-large City Councilman Ciro Adams

Lorener Wooten worked for the City of Wilmington’s cable channel, WITN, in 2017, when she alleges at-large City Councilman Ciro Adams sexually and racially harassed her. 

According to a lawsuit filed in federal court in November, Adams touched Wooten’s behind at a City-approved social event, and whispered in her ear that she was a “beautiful black woman.” Adams denies the allegations. 

The complaint filed by Wooten’s attorney says Wooten found the alleged interaction and the general work environment so “racially and sexually hostile” that she went on leave under the Family Medical Leave Act for several months.

The complaint alleges that when Wooten returned to work, she was retaliated against by Acting Station Manager Paul Cosley, City Council Chief of Staff Marchelle Basnight and then-communications contractor Leon Tucker for reporting the incident. The lawsuit claims Basnight and City Council President Hanifa Shabazz were familiar with Adams’ “reputation as being sexually predatory,” particularly toward African-American women, but failed to try to educate or reprimand Adams, and therefore fostered the alleged conduct. 

The complaint says the alleged incident involving Adams was investigated by an independent human resources professional, who concluded the Councilman “had a pattern of ‘questionable behavior’ concerning professional settings, that he appears not to completely understand social cues and that he has been informal with his interactions with colleagues.”

The court filing says Wooten was suspended from her position as Digital & Media Web Content Coordinator in August 2018 after posting religious content to the City’s Twitter account, which the complaint alleges was a form of retaliation because it was “out of proportion to the offense charged.” Wooten remained suspended at the time of the complaint’s filing. 

City Council spokeswoman Latisha Bracy said in an email the City “does not generally comment on litigation, especially as it regards to personnel matters.”

Adams denies Wooten’s allegations, and calls the lawsuit “politically motivated.” He said in a statement that he “would like to comment further,” but will not, on the advice of legal counsel. Adams is the lone Republican on City Council, and is running for re-election. 

Wooten is being represented by attorney and former City Council President Theo Gregory. Gregory was indicted last fall on charges of Profiteering and Official Misconduct while in office. 

Marchelle Basnight, Hanifa Shabazz and Theo Gregory did not respond to requests for comment.

Editor's note: Leon Tucker is a member of Delaware Public Media's Board of Directors. 

Wilmington/Adams Discrim Co... by Delaware Public Media on Scribd

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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