SPANISH AMERICAN COMMITTEE SUED 3 EMPLOYEES SAY AGENCY RETALIATED FOR WHISTLE-BLOWING

The Plain Dealer
Cleveland, OH
Feb 19, 1999

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Authors: TIMOTHY HEIDER PLAIN DEALER REPORTER
Pagination: 1B

Abstract:

Three employees of a Hispanic social services organization have sued the group's Board of Trustees, accusing it of retaliating against them for reporting alleged misdeeds by the former executive director.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, accuses the Spanish American Committee trustees of covering up the alleged misconduct, then threatening, harassing and intimidating the employees who made the complaints.

(Copyright (c) The Plain Dealer 1999)

Full Text:

Three employees of a Hispanic social services organization have sued the group's Board of Trustees, accusing it of retaliating against them for reporting alleged misdeeds by the former executive director.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, accuses the Spanish American Committee trustees of covering up the alleged misconduct, then threatening, harassing and intimidating the employees who made the complaints.

The Spanish American Committee is a social service and cultural organization that finds jobs and housing, provides day care, fights discrimination and provides other assistance to Hispanics. It is the largest Hispanic organization in Ohio and has an annual budget of more than $700,000 that comes from federal and state subsidies and contributions from local charitable foundations.

"This is not something we did lightly," said Richard Herman, who represents the three employees. "But how can an agency stand as a beacon for justice, then violate the rights of its employees?"

The organization's lawyer, Stanley Keller, declined comment.

According to the lawsuit, the employees, Jazmin Torres-Lugo, who is the organization's housing coordinator and head of its legal department, and two other employees, Cascade DuSel and Maria Torres, provided the board with evidence last September that former executive director Leo Serrano had allegedly committed "a myriad of offenses, some of which may constitute felony offenses."

The information, which was not disclosed in the lawsuit, allegedly includes falsifying information to the Ohio Bureau of Unemployment Compensation and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Two days after receiving notice of the complaints, the lawsuit alleges, Serrano submitted a backdated memorandum to the trustees "intended to cover up his earlier improper act of granting his wife, Marianela Seoane, also an employee of SAC, a financial bonus."

Serrano, who resigned in November, and his wife, who no longer works there, could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit accuses the trustees of whitewashing an investigation into the charges, then retaliating against the employees with threats, intimidation and discrimination.

The complaint also alleges that Lugo was denied a promised raise and bonus; DuSel was stripped of some of her responsibilities; and Torres was reprimanded and denied access to her personnel file in violation of the organization's personnel manual.

No hearing date has been set.

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