N&R employee convicted of sex offense subject of complaint in 2014

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The News & Record has acknowledged that a former HR representative failed to document a complaint against a former employee who went on to expose his genitals to at least three women at the newspaper. (photo by Jordan Green)

Kelly Young was the last person his colleagues at the News & Record would have suspected of committing a sex offense. A well liked digital designer, he quoted scripture during a weekly Bible study and played on the company softball team. And a 2016 media kit published by the newspaper featured him front and center in an assembled group photo of the sales staff.

But in late 2016, a reporter and an account executive, both women, reported that Young stalked them at their work stations and exposed his genitals to them through his open pants, as detailed in police reports reviewed by Triad City Beat. The unwanted encounters would often begin with Young commanding their attention through work-related talk. One of the accusers said Young would typically hold a folder in front of his crotch, and then when he was within a foot of her face pull the folder away to reveal his exposed genitals. The other accuser said on one occasion, Young appeared at her cubicle with his erect penis showing through his open pants and then pursued her after she got up from her desk to get away from him.

Young was fired in March 2017 after a second reported offense. Based on a criminal complaint brought by a now former employee, Young pleaded no contest to misdemeanor indecent exposure in Guilford County court on Dec. 13. His sentence is court-ordered “counseling that involves treatment for sexual deviant behavior.”

A report prepared by a Greensboro police detective who investigated the allegations in April 2017 indicates that a regional human resources manager for BH Media Group — the company that owns the News & Record — told the investigator she had not been “aware of the extent of Mr. Young’s behavior until he was terminated.” The report says that Human Resources Manager Sharmin Arrington “went on to state that the Greensboro News & Record had recently changed their HR staff and later learned there were previous reports dating back to December and January 2016 of Kelly Young’s indecent exposure.”

Following TCB’s initial story about the matter, which was published online mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the News & Record posted a response on its website disputing TCB’s reporting. The newspaper said TCB’s reporting “incorrectly suggests that the News & Record allowed a former employee to remain on the job while he exposed himself to multiple staff members.” The News & Record took issue with TCB’s reporting that human resources had been aware of complaints about Young’s behavior “at least 10 months before” the employee report that began the process resulting in Young’s termination. The 10-month span measures the time from January 2016, when Arrington cited “reports” of Young’s “indecent exposure,” and November 2016, when an unidentified reporter alerted human resources about Young.

Daniel Finnegan, the editor and publisher of the News & Record, said in an email to TCB on Tuesday: “No complaints were made to our HR department or management team in January of 2016.” Finnegan suggested that the allegations of sexual misconduct by Young in January 2016 were retroactive, as opposed to contemporaneous. “Other victims came forward after Mr. Young was fired, and that is when we learned there had been previous incidents,” he wrote. “But we did not know about those incidents when the first complaint was brought to our attention in November.”

Beyond the News & Record’s dispute about when management knew about complaints about alleged misconduct by Young that occurred in January 2016, Finnegan acknowledged in a statement to TCB that a former HR representative failed to properly document a 2014 incident.

In the statement, which was also posted on the N&R’s website on Tuesday evening, Finnegan wrote, “After Mr. Young was fired, several other employees came forward to say they had experienced similar incidents. One of them dated to 2014 and was not properly documented by an HR representative, who left our company in 2015. This lack of documentation left management unaware of the 2014 incident until after Mr. Young was terminated.”

In an interview with TCB on Wednesday, Finnegan acknowledged, “There was a breakdown, that is true. We’re not denying it. We’re being up front about it. It was a single point of failure, not a systemic failure. One person made a decision to not document this complaint.”

Finnegan also acknowledged that the undocumented complaint was received by human resources in 2014, which means there was a gap of at least two years between the initial report and the second complaint that led to Young’s firing.

Gayla Price, a 51-year-old account executive in the advertising department, said Young exposed himself to her on three occasions in November and December 2016. At the time, Price had initiated a discrimination complaint against the company over an unrelated matter, and she felt isolated and vulnerable. Two weeks before the first incident, Price said Young noticed that she was upset after she had met with management to discuss her discrimination complaint, and he invited her to come by his office.

“He was very supportive,” Price recalled. “He said, ‘Hang in there.’ It was a very positive exchange. It wasn’t two weeks later; that’s when the first assault happened. That told me — after the initial shock — I would come home and it consumed me. Now, I’m thinking: What did I do? Why did he do that?…. I felt like it was the most disrespectful thing I had experienced, like someone says, ‘Shut up!’ This is what’s going through my mind. I don’t have no recourse. I was mad at myself because I gave him that power. He befriended me. I told Judge Cummings beyond a shadow of a doubt I couldn’t speak up. He knew I couldn’t go to them. He was right.”

Young, who was 33 at the time of the incidents, could not be reached for comment on this story.

It fell to the reporter, whom TCB has opted to not identify by name, to report Young’s misconduct to human resources.

Sharmin Arrington, the current regional human relations manager at BH Media Group, told the police investigator that she met with Young to discuss the complaint in January 2017. The newspaper has not explained the time lapse between the report in November 2016 and Arrington’s meeting with Young in January of the following year. The police report states that Young told Arrington “his indecent exposure was an accident as he did not know his zipper was undone and his genitals were exposed.” The statement released by the News & Record late Tuesday indicated staff “conducted an investigation but could not determine whether the incident was intentional.” The statement went on to say that “management met with Mr. Young on Jan. 3 to warn him that he would be fired if we received any other complaints.”

When a second unidentified employee complained about Young exposing his genitals in March, human resources staff confronted him and fired him on the spot.

“This has been a painful incident for the victims in this case, and shocking for all of our employees,” Finnegan said on Tuesday. “We regret that any of them had to go through this experience. We are committed to making sure our workplace is a safe and supportive environment for all our employees.”

Price, who resigned from her position at the News & Record in May, expressed dismay at the newspaper’s response to the revelations about Young’s misconduct. She charges that the organization tried to protect itself while jeopardizing its employees’ safety, that HR staff should have acknowledged that exposing genitals to coworkers is a criminal offense, and should have contacted the police as soon as they first received reports of the misconduct. She said the news organization also should have circulated a memo warning employees to be on guard against sexual harassment. Then, perhaps more victims would have felt emboldened to come forward, putting Young on notice.

Finnegan defended the News & Record’s handling of the matter and efforts to protect employees in its official statement on Tuesday, writing that the company “took several steps to try to provide assistance to our employees — we offered counseling to those we know were affected, so we sent a broader communication to our entire staff to remind them that of counseling services available to them through our Employee Assistance Program, and we required all employees to take anti-harassment training this spring, as we do periodically.”

Price said the company’s handling of the complaint destroyed her faith in the News & Record’s credibility.

“Not that their reporters don’t have credibility,” she said. “She reported a crime, and they did nothing about it, but they treated it as a ‘he said she said.’”

The experience took a significant toll on Price. She believes Young intentionally took advantage of her vulnerability, and then the episode of workplace sexual harassment ratcheted up the pressure she was already experiencing.

“By the time I went to the doctor my blood pressure was so high, the stress level was so high,” Price recounted. “He ended up referring me to a mental health facility here in Greensboro…. I became so angry that I could no longer represent this company in a positive light. I lost employment. My blood pressure, that was out of the roof; my stress level, that was out of the roof.

“The sexual harassment on top of everything else just rendered me useless when it came to me doing my job,” Price added. “When things are piling up one person can only take so much.”

Although Young was not a senior employee in a technical sense, Price said his status as the only digital designer made him indispensable and allowed him to wield power over others. Young’s skills were crucial to the success of some of Price’s most lucrative accounts like the Greensboro Swarm.

“The power’s not always with a manager,” Price said. “Sometimes the power is a person you rely on to carry out and execute campaigns, and I couldn’t afford to sabotage that.”

When Young appeared in court on Dec. 13, three of his victims were present, including Price. The reporter who made the initial complaint in November 2016 told the court she wanted Young to get help and wanted to make sure the staff at the News & Record remained safe. Price said the prosecutor indicated that there were five victims, although she only knows two others. A second News & Record reporter, whom TCB is not identifying, also attended the hearing.

“I’m happy we got a conviction,” Price said. “It vindicates all five women. We stopped a potential serial sex offender.”

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