Former Employee Alleges Shelter Outreach Plus Violated Federal Housing Rules
January 28, 2013
Linda Forkash's lawsuit against her former employer, non-profit Shelter Outreach Plus, makes the homelessness services and emergency shelter provider sound like the scene of a soap opera.
While it's mostly a complaint for wrongful termination—Forkash alleges she was fired based on age discrimination and in retaliation for whistleblowing—Forkash's lawsuit also claims unfair business practices, and describes violations of federal housing rules.
Forkash had worked for SOP for 12 years when a new executive director, Tom Melville (pictured above), and new program director, Katherine Thoeni, came on board in 2011. Thoeni lived for six months in housing that SOP had renovated with a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, according to the complaint, filed Jan. 9 in Monterey County Superior Court.
"SOP was not supposed to provide such federally funded housing to its own staff members," the suit states. "[That housing] was specifically set aside for homeless men who were registered as SOP clients."
Then the soap opera plot unwinds. Thoeni's brother—also not enrolled as a Shelter Outreach Plus participant—allegedly moved into the apartment.
Next, Melville's partner's (also a former SOP employee) brother moved into program housing, according to Forkash's complaint.
Then it gets even weirder: Allegedly an SOP employee, "a younger employee who later became [Forkash's] replacement," became romantically involved with a program participant. Forkash claims that when she raised concerns about this arrangement, plus the use of program housing as living quarters, her work environment became increasingly hostile to the point that she was intentionally being driven out.
Melville left his post at Shelter Outreach Plus on Dec. 1, and Thoeni's also since left the organization.
Melville and SOP board president Eric Johnsen did not respond to requests for comment.
Forkash obtained a right-to-sue letter from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on Aug. 27. Now 64, she is still job hunting, says her attorney, Adam Bernstein.
Forkash is seeking $750,000 in damages, calculated based on lost wages and "emotional distress and humiliation," Bernstein says.
He thinks there could be additional lawsuits filed by some half-dozen former employees who believe they were terminated because of their 40-and-up ages. "I feel that others have ground to sue, but they may have chosen not to sue and just get on with their lives," Bernstein adds.