A woman who once directed the agency that is the main provider of civil legal help for poor people in Eastern Kentucky has alleged that its board fired her because of her gender and race.
Cynthia Elliott, who is black, also contended in a lawsuit that the board of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky fired her in retaliation for firing white employees.
The board dismissed Elliott in January. She had been director of the agency, known by the acronym AppalReD, since 2007, and had been one of its staff attorneys earlier.
AppalReD, which is mostly publicly funded, represents poor people in non-criminal legal matters such as foreclosures; employment disputes; and eligibility for disability, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. It provides free services in 37 Eastern and southern Kentucky counties.
Jonathan Picklesimer, the interim executive director, said he could not comment on the allegations in Elliott's lawsuit.
Two attorneys representing Elliott filed the employment-discrimination lawsuit in federal court last week.
The AppalReD board fired Elliott after information from an internal whistle blower sparked an investigation, Mike Taylor, the chairman of the board, said at the time.
An audit completed since then shows AppalReD overspent its budget by nearly $1 million during the past four years, Picklesimer said Wednesday.
"That's not the situation you want to operate in," he said.
The non-profit used reserve funds to make up for the deficit, Picklesimer said.
However, it also cut staff at the same time Elliott was terminated.
AppalReD now has 30 lawyers and 30 support staffers, Picklesimer said.
Elliott said in her lawsuit that the AppalReD board falsely accused her of stealing $10,600 through the use of one of its bank cards.
The board acted with malice toward her, locking her out of her office and blocking it off with tape like a crime scene, Elliott said.
The lawsuit also claims AppalReD staffers illegally altered one or more records after she was fired to cover up the fact she had disclosed that a temporary 90-day employee was her daughter.
One of Elliott's attorneys, Henry J. Curtis of Louisville, said the alleged missing money and the issue related to disclosing her daughter's employment were cited in the termination letter Elliott received.
The board gave other reasons as well, Curtis said. He declined to say what they were, and AppalReD has not released the letter.
"We don't think she deserved to be sacked," Curtis said.
Elliott's lawsuit said she has suffered economic damage, emotional distress, depression, humiliation, sleeplessness and weight loss.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount. The defendants are AppalReD and unnamed employees.