Paul Cunningham found to have harassed 3 city workers

Paul Cunningham found to have harassed 3 city workers

Drunken behavior on trip called a violation of employees' rights

A just-released report has concluded Councilman Paul Cunningham sexually harassed three female city employees while on a business trip to San Diego in May.

Even though the city report found Cunningham violated Tucson's sexual harassment policy, the city charter doesn't contain any meaningful provisions to punish misbehaving elected officials.

The report recommends sexual harassment training for all City Council members and their staffs and a renewed emphasis on sexual-harassment awareness for all city employees.

"I admit and take full responsibility for becoming intoxicated, acting unprofessionally, and making inappropriate comments," Cunningham said in a text message after the report was released Tuesday. "At this time I continue to make amends to co-workers and constituents, participate in an alcohol treatment program, and perform the duties of my office to the best of my ability."

Cunningham was among several city officials and city employees who joined business leaders on a Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities junket to San Diego. The economic development trip was to find ways to improve Tucson's business climate.

The report also said Cunningham had made similar comments to city employees in the past.

The report said two of the women he is accused of sexually harassing in San Diego claimed Cunningham previously made lewd comments toward them at non-city-related events. They said they told Cunningham his behavior was inappropriate, and he appeared to be intoxicated at the time, the report states.

Cunningham was accused of harassing the three city employees at a hotel bar after he was seen drinking large amounts of alcohol throughout the afternoon. He contends none of his drinking occurred during "any formal part of the trip's program," and the incident in question didn't happen until "after hours."

The report said Cunningham began drinking in the late afternoon May 16 and then engaged the three female city employees at an evening event where he proceeded to make comments that were "inappropriate, graphic and sexual in nature."

Cunningham's behavior was described as "loud and boisterous" by witnesses, and they said he continued making sexual comments even though one of the women told him she was offended and walked away.

As for why the other two women stayed, the report said they felt obligated as representatives of the city to keep Cunningham contained in one area of the bar to spare other patrons from his behavior.

When investigators asked Cunningham to account for his actions, he classified some of his statements toward the women as "banter" and admitted the conversation, which began with business issues, became personal at some point and comments "of a sexual nature to some degree" eventually occurred, according to the report.

Cunningham told investigators he was too drunk to recall specific remarks he made about one employee's body, but said it wasn't his intention to offend anyone.

The report said no other incidents occurred during the trip.

Once details of his behavior surfaced, City Attorney Mike Rankin turned the incident over to the city's Office of Equal Opportunity Programs for review and as a means to demonstrate the city takes sexual harassment matters seriously.

"Our main goal as an employer (is) providing a workplace free of harassment," said Rankin, who is developing a code of ethics for elected officials to present at a future council meeting. "That's number one. And number two is to protect the (city) against liability."

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said the report clearly demonstrates Cunningham's behavior violated the employees' rights and could open the door to lawsuits.

"They have a right to bring a civil cause of action under the Civil Rights Act against Paul," Rothschild said. "But I have not heard that they have any interest in doing that."

Rothschild said the city's action in conducting the investigation and its results sent a strong message to Cunningham.

"It was appropriate so that Paul knows that his behavior is not tolerated in the city, and he has been put on public notice that he can't behave this way," he said.

Councilman Steve Kozachik said it's important to note everybody in the report associated Cunningham's behavior with alcohol, and people should support Cunningham's attempt to get his life back on track.

"As far as I know, Paul has self-admitted himself to treatment in order to put that part of his life back together," Kozachik said in an email. "Let's not kick the guy while he's down, but instead support his efforts to clean up his act and get ahold of the alcoholism issue. Either he owns it, or it'll own him. I think he gets that."

But Councilwoman Regina Romero said the report highlights a pattern of inappropriate behavior, and alcohol should not be used as a scapegoat.

"Sexual harassment should never be tolerated," said Romero in an email. "Council Member Cunningham's behavior cannot and should not be excused or diminished because he was under the influence of alcohol. His actions hurt the individuals involved. They hurt women, and they hurt the City of Tucson."

Cunningham stated in his text on Tuesday he would like to thank his family and friends who have been supporting him these past few weeks, and he thinks it is time for him to move forward with his personal and professional responsibilities.

He also wrote he will not be making any further comments on the matter.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at or 573-4243.

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