Former YWCA employees say they were persecuted for being white and non-religious.

Empower Outage: Painful Twist: The YWCA has been charged with conduct counter to its mission.— Jane Morba

Three former employees of the YWCA of Monterey County are suing the Seaside organization for race and religious intolerance and demanding payment of lost earnings and benefits.

The lawsuit, which includes one current employee as a plaintiff, claims that Office Manager Jacqueline Neely demoralized the women for not supporting her evangelical Christian beliefs, and made fun of them for being white. The lawsuit says Neely harassed Deborah Ayres, the agency’s former accountant, for being an atheist.

“After learning of Ayres’ religious beliefs,” the complaint says, “Neely proceeded to refer to Ayres as the devil, and without Ayres’ consent anointed her with oil and performed a ritual…intended to exorcise demons.”

This conduct was condoned by Executive Director Patricia McFadden and all but ignored by Board President Bridgette Allen-Murray, the lawsuit says. McFadden and Neely attend the same church.

McFadden declined to talk with the Weekly. Neely and Allen-Murray did not respond to requests for an interview.

Ayres also brought up several financial irregularities to Allen-Murray. In an Oct. 31 e-mail to the board president, Ayres said Neely was taking cash advances on the company’s credit card and McFadden gave herself a raise. Ayres went on to complain of missing receipts for petty cash and misappropriation of funds.

According to the lawsuit, Ayres refused to sign tax forms confirming she was unaware of financial impropriety. For this, the lawsuit says, McFadden fired Ayres in retaliation.

Although her name is still on the YWCA’s Web site, Ayres was terminated Nov. 6. She was not the first to leave the agency, which provides a 24-hour crisis line and a safe house for domestic violence victims.

At least nine employees and independent contractors have resigned since McFadden was hired in March 2005. A former volunteer and the YWCA’s former clinical supervisor of therapist interns and trainees have also filed complaints with the state Office of Emergency Services.

Board Secretary Jo Ann Novoson says the YWCA is investigating the allegations. San Francisco attorney Jason Geller, who is representing the YWCA, declined to comment.

All four women bringing the lawsuit complain that McFadden, who is African American, denied them raises and benefits because of their race and religious affiliation.

Neely also made racial slurs against the women, according to the complaint. Neely ridiculed a Latina receptionist’s ability to do calculation, saying, “Those people need to learn to count quarters and not pesos,” the lawsuit says. Neely also frequently referred to Alexandra McCabe, legal services outreach coordinator, as “too white,” the complaint says.

McCabe repeatedly tried to get McFadden to address Neely’s behavior, but these attempts allegedly failed. “Neely was never questioned, addressed, counseled, or disciplined with regard to McCabe’s complaints of harassment and discrimination, and no investigation whatsoever was made,” the lawsuit says.

McFadden and Neely retaliated against McCabe, the complaint says, by denying her vacation time and declining to pay her medical insurance deductible.

When the employees complained to the YWCA Board of Directors or to the YWCA Pacific Regional Council, they delegated McFadden to handle the grievances. Kay Kelly, a representative of the regional council, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

With no way to settle their complaints, two of the plaintiffs resigned from the YWCA. Sally Magill resigned in August after working in the agency’s safe house to protect battered women for 10 years. Despite her experience, the lawsuit says, Magill was turned down for the safe house director position and McFadden hired unqualified woman instead.

“Prior to being passed over herself,” the lawsuit says, “Magill saw that non-African-American applicants for positions at the safe house were passed over for employment in favor of African-Americans who shared Neely’s and McFadden’s religious beliefs.”

Another plaintiff, Diane Gilquist, worked for two years at the YWCA as legal advocacy coordinator before quitting because of the hostile work environment. After Gilquist announced she was pregnant, McFadden gave her a poor evaluation and denied her a raise, the lawsuit says.

While she was pregnant, the complaint says, Neely called Gilquist “fat” and didn’t let her use the counseling rooms to pump breast milk. McFadden also denied Gilquist leave for medical care and stonewalled her when asked whether the YWCA would reimburse her for maternity hospital costs, the lawsuit says. Finally, without receiving a formal request from Gilquist, McFadden made her job part time so that Gilquist did not qualify for medical benefits.

The three former employees claim the YWCA failed to pay them owed wages, vacation pay, sick pay, and reimbursement for medical expenses. Salinas attorney Charles Swanston is representing the women. He could not be reached for comment by the Weekly’s deadline.

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