Shakeup at the Y
State receives complaints of religious intolerance and racial bias as longtime employees flee YWCA.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The YWCA of Monterey County—whose mission is to eliminate racism and empower women—has become entangled in allegations of racial and religious discrimination and reprisals against female employees.
Two former employees and a long-time volunteer at the YWCA—a Seaside-based nonprofit—have filed complaints against Executive Director Patricia McFadden and her operations manager, Jacqueline Neely. Both are African-American and members of a local evangelical church.
McFadden is accused of showing favoritism by giving raises and bonuses to her friends while denying fair treatment to the complainants and other former and current YWCA employees, all of whom are white or Hispanic.
The complaints, which were filed with two state agencies and obtained by the Weekly, also include charges of financial impropriety. They claim that McFadden and Neely used the agency’s credit card for personal use—allegedly to buy items like jewelry.
“My sense is that old-time people have just been run off.”
In a complaint to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the YWCA’s former accountant charges that when she brought evidence of financial impropriety to the Board of Directors, McFadden fired her in retaliation.
Other charges, filed with the state Office of Emergency Services, say McFadden did not advertise openings and instead hired friends—including other evangelical Christians.
The details of the complaints describe a hostile work environment where white employees were ridiculed and demoralized for not following McFadden’s and Neely’s evangelical Christian beliefs.
One employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said Bibles are displayed conspicuously throughout the office, gospel music plays incessantly, and her supervisor regularly and loudly preaches about Jesus.
She and several other past and current employees have hired Salinas attorney Charles Swanston and are considering a lawsuit. Swanston says the complaint concerns violations of the state Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race and religion.
Reached by phone, McFadden declined to speak about the charges, saying they involved confidential personnel information. She did not respond to several subsequent requests for an interview.
Neely did not return several calls asking for comment.
Members of the YWCA Board of Directors say they have been advised by their attorney not to talk about the allegations. Board Member Vanessa Vallarta, who is also Salinas’ city attorney, says the board is investigating the accusations.
• • •
On Nov. 8, Joan Mortensen, the YWCA’s former clinical supervisor of therapist interns and trainees, filed a complaint with the state Office of Emergency Services charging that four new employees at the safe house had not received proper domestic violence training. She said the untrained staff were friends of the executive director.
McFadden “appears to [be] practicing blatant cronyism throughout the agency with hiring of staff members who are friends and who she can control with special compensation,” the complaint says.
The following week, on Nov. 14, the former YWCA accountant filed a wrongful termination complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. She accused Neely of using racial epithets in reference to her, and complained that “[Neely] would refer to [her] as the devil and, without…consent, anointed her with oil and performed a ritual to exorcise demons from her.”
The employee’s name was blacked out in a copy of the complaint obtained by the Weekly.
The woman also said she was harassed and denied promotions or bonuses because of her race.
Mortensen, a marriage and family therapist who supervised therapist interns and trainees at the YWCA for 11 years, resigned in October, citing a hostile work environment.
“I could not welcome any new intern counselors there,” Mortensen says. “I was ashamed about how people were being treated.”
Therapist intern Kathleen Alcala says Neely treated one client, a domestic abuse victim in her 20s, so harshly that the woman left and never returned.
Josie Camacho, who worked as a marriage and family therapist trainee from August 2005 until a year later, said that Neely was often “rude” to Latina clients and employees. Camacho said many of her clients spoke only Spanish, but Neely insisted on speaking to them in English. “She was really disrespectful to them,” Camacho says.
“I think that the bottom line is there is no need to be rude, especially in an office like this,” she says. “The people are already coming in with issues and her being rude did not help.”
• • •
At least nine employees and independent contractors have resigned since McFadden was hired in March 2005.
Sally Magill, former client services facilitator, resigned in August after more than nine years with the organization. In her resignation letter she cites “very dismissive and negative treatment” by McFadden.
A colleague of Magill’s, who managed YWCA’s safe house for battered women, resigned in February after 16 years.
“My sense is that old-time people have just been run off,” Mortensen says.
In her complaint to the state Office of Emergency Services, filed in November, Mortensen says staff members at the safe house have not received the required domestic violence training.
“If staff aren’t properly trained these people can be in danger of their lives,” she said in an interview.
The YWCA operates the only confidentially located safe house for battered women in Monterey County. Two complaints are on record with the Office of Emergency Services, which provides a $182,000 grant to the YWCA to fund operations, including the safe house and 24-hour crisis line.
On Dec. 14 the state agency gave the YWCA copies of the complaints, which include allegations of undertrained staff. OES spokesman Eric Lamoureux says his office will give the YWCA a chance to respond to the complaints before it preceeds with any investigation.
• • •
At a YWCA board meeting on Nov. 30, nine former employees and volunteers filed into the conference room at First National Bank in Monterey. Board member Darryl Holman welcomed the women before they gathered around a conference table. Once board members Vallarta, Jo Ann Novoson and Holly Hatton arrived—enough for a quorum—Vallarta explained that Board President Bridgett Allen-Murray had tried to cancel the meeting by e-mail. But Vallarta said there was business that needed to get done and the public hadn’t been notified of the cancellation so the board members convened a special meeting.
During public comment, the women went around the table and voiced complaints about cronyism, racism, religious discrimination and misuse of agency funds.
Diane Gilquist, who sat at the table with her four-month-old son, said that while she was pregnant she was paid $5,000-per-year less than a male employee with the same job. Gilquist, who resigned as legal advocacy coordinator at the end of October, said she also was denied medical reimbursement for her obstetrics and gynecology care.
Gilquist said she had studied women’s studies at school, and has seen an exodus of like-minded feminists.
“It is sad now that all the wonderful people are quitting…at a place where there is not supposed to be abuse or discrimination for that matter.”
Magill, the former client services facilitator, said McFadden has driven out several employees at the safe house and and replaced them with people who worked with her when she was executive director of the Women’s Crisis Center in Salinas. McFadden was fired from that job in November 2004 (her name was then Patricia Draper); the Crisis Center’s current executive director declined to comment on why.
Vallarta said the board is investigating the claims and an annual audit is underway. “We hope we can trust the process,” the three-year board member said. “If the process isn’t working I’m not going to stay on the board.”
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||$605MIL||
The value of the Christmas tree ornaments imported into the US from China between January and August of 2006. Source:The US Census Bureau.