Harris County fires IT director after failing to complete sexual harassment training, now he says he’s planning to sue

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – A Harris County executive is out of a job after refusing to participate in sexual harassment training and now he said he is planning to sue.

Rick Noriega, the former executive director at Harris County Universal Services, was fired Tuesday. Noriega was accused of sexual harassment by a county employee in December of 2022.

During a Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday afternoon, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced her support for the Harris County Administrator’s decision to dismiss Noriega. She says an investigation by the county’s attorney, Human Resources Department, and Risk Management determined there was sufficient evidence to support the sexual harassment claim made five months ago, and Noriega had not taken the training that he was asked to complete on April 10 and again on April 26.

RELATED: Rick Noriega speaks with KPRC 2′s Khambrel Marshall on Houston Newsmakers

“There is no tolerance for harassment, there is no tolerance for insubordination when it comes to harassment,” said Hidalgo.

“I have never been more offended or insulted in my 40 years of public service,” Noriega said via a statement to KPRC 2. “I intend to sue Judge Lina Hidalgo and her acting county administrator for their retaliatory and defamatory conduct. Harris County deserves better leaders.”

Hidalgo says it’s a problem in Harris County that even she has experienced.

“Even worse, I was groped once standing right here,” she said while answering questions from reporters inside the Commissioners Court. “I didn’t have the strength and the presence of mind to report that.”

Hidalgo believes Noriega’s termination sends a message throughout the county that harassment will no longer be tolerated.

“The old boy’s way of treating women, the jokes, the demeaning comments, the groping, this kind of thing, it’s not okay, and it ends today,” she added.

More about Rick Noriega

According to his bio on HarrisCountyTX.gov, Houston native Major General Richard J. Noriega served as the executive director of Harris County’s Department of Universal Services.

Prior to his time with Harris County, Noriega served in the Texas House of Representatives, for more than five consecutive terms and introduced and authored HB 1403; the Texas Dream Act.

Noriega earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Houston, a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, and a certificate in advanced international affairs from Texas A&M University. Noriega is also a graduate of the U.S. Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College Senior Service Fellowship Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

About the Authors:

Moriah Ballard joined the KPRC 2 digital team in the fall of 2021. Prior to becoming a digital content producer in Southeast Texas and a Houstonian, Moriah was an award-winning radio host in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio and previously worked as a producer/content creator in Cleveland. Her faith, family, and community are her top passions.

Candace Burns is committed to helping keep her community informed, and loves sharing inspiring stories about people who make the world a better place.