KPRC 2 Investigates: Airports director’s cozy relationship with a subordinate

Experts say the personal and work relationship between the two employees is too close.

Houston – The personal and work relationship between a top leader and a program manager at Houston Airports System is under scrutiny after allegations of sexual harassment by a former employee.

KPRC 2 Investigates first reported the sexual harassment complaint against Maricela Kruseman by a former employee. The whistleblower also blames Mario Diaz, the director of the airport’s system, for retaliation after he came forward with those claims.

The complaint is now being investigated by the city’s Office of the Inspector General.

The former employee says Kruseman and Diaz are in a romantic relationship and it has created problems.

“Maricela had bragged about the fact that she had significant influence over terms and conditions of anyone that worked in that department at the airport because of her relationship with Mario,” said David Kardell, the attorney who represents the former employee.

KPRC 2 is not identifying the former employee because he claims to be a victim of sexual harassment.

PREVIOUS STORY: Sexual harassment claims at Houston Airports System went nowhere, says former employee

KPRC 2 Investigates took at closer look at those claims. Watch the video above for more.

Human resource and management experts agree the relationship hits too close to the workplace.

“They shouldn’t be in a situation where you can approve or disprove stuff because there can be power and control in that regard,” said Houston employment attorney Todd Slobin.

Kruseman and Diaz have yet to respond to requests for comment.

From the city to the airport

Kruseman is currently the director for the airport’s music program, Harmony in the Air.

She joined the airport in 2014 after working as an executive assistant for the City of Houston for nearly 10 years.

City records show Diaz signed the promotion which described Kruseman as “uniquely qualified” to join the airport.

But, three months later, records show a city director placed Kruseman on paid leave for one day after learning she misled the city about having a college degree, a requirement for the position.

She stayed on board and helped create Harmony in the Air alongside Diaz.

Documents show Diaz also signed off on travel and other professional requests, including a trip to Seattle in June 2021.

The Seattle trip came just days after a meeting involving a former employee who accused Kruseman of sexual harassment. That meeting put the former employee in a room with the accused and senior airport leaders.

Kruseman flew west to meet famed glassblower Dale Chihuly to “visualize ways his art can potentially compliment,” the airport’s music program.

Dave Martin, the city’s mayor pro-tem, says Diaz should not be signing off on Kruseman’s expenses.

Sources also say Kruseman orders employees around, telling them it is what Diaz wants. She also parks in a spot reserved for the Chief Operations Officer and spends a lot of time in Diaz’s office, according to sources.

Diaz reports directly to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

KPRC 2 Investigates team reached out to the mayor’s office to comment on the relationship and allegations of harassment, but a spokesperson declined to address any questions because of an ongoing investigation.

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