IN A STUNNING MOVE THAT SHOCKED AND SADDENED the housing world, Habitat for Humanity International founder Millard Fuller and his wife Linda were fired from the ministry they founded 28 years ago.

The decision was announced by Habitat's executive committee of the board of directors Jan. 31. The board says the dismissal stems from a sexual harassment charge filed against Millard Fuller by a former female Habitat employee and the Fullers' uncooperative behavior as the investigation unfolded.

Although the board previously agreed that there was insufficient proof of sexual misconduct during the February 2003 incident, the board pointed to a pattern of ongoing public comments by the Fullers they say disrupted the organization's work.

FALLEN HERO: Habitat for Humanity's firing of the charismatic Millard Fuller was a stunning upset for a man who dedicated his life to housing the poor.
FALLEN HERO: Habitat for Humanity's firing of the charismatic Millard Fuller was a stunning upset for a man who dedicated his life to housing the poor.

Since its founding in 1976, Habitat for Humanity International has built more than 175,000 homes for the poor in 100 countries and attracted high-profile volunteers such as former President Jimmy Carter, who still has a close relationship with Habitat and tried unsuccessfully on two occasions to mediate the dispute. At press time, there were reports that Carter would make another mediation attempt.

The recent firing by Habitat's board follows a move last October when Fuller, 70, agreed to relinquish the title of chief executive in exchange for maintaining the ceremonial titles of founder and president.

Fuller denies any wrongdoing. He says allegations by the woman that he “touched her on the shoulder and arm and [said she] had smooth skin” are untrue. But he did acknowledge serious disagreements with the board.

“They said I was pushing too hard to take Habitat into more countries,” Fuller states. “I wanted to take Habitat into Ukraine and Bosnia, but they are holding back.”