SMILE employee wants compensation for discrimination and hostile environment

Posted at 11:53 PM, Jun 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-12 00:53:37-04

We’re getting a sense of some of the issues facing SMILE, amid a shakeup in leadership at the agency.

KATC investigates obtained documents that show an employee has made allegations against former CEO Chris Williams, involving possible civil rights and labor violations.

That employee sent a letter to the agency demanding $800,000  in compensation.     

SMILE’s attorney says the agency "vehemently disagrees" that the environment at SMILE is hostile and that Williams disagrees with the employee’s "recitation of events."

It is unclear what those "events" are but the attorney says they cannot control the employee’s personal relationships or who calls them.

On April 23, board members went into executive session to discuss the potential litigation the agency was facing regarding discrimination.

In a letter from board president Marlon Lewis to Williams, dated May 24, Lewis asked Williams to take a paid leave of absence concerning allegations about his "actions and inactions between April and May 2017."

Lewis wrote if the allegations made are true, it could leave SMILE liable for claims under Title VII, which prohibits employee discrimination and Fair Labor Standards, which establishes minimum wage, over-time and protects full time employees to work 40 hours a week.

In the same letter, Lewis told the former CEO to keep proof of correspondence, photos or videos between him and the employee.

Lewis refused to comment on the letter or the matters discussed.

On May 31, Williams denied those allegations to KATC.

He resigned last week as CEO and St. Mary Parish councilman Craig Matthews will be taking over as the "administrative consultant" and get the CEO salary.

Officials with SMILE would not confirm if the employee who brought forward the claims is still employee.

"We are focusing on getting our 50th year anniversary celebration in motion so that we can continue doing the work of the community action, work for the impoverished communities. Again with Dr. Williams’ resignation, we move forward with our administrative consultant… [Moving forward] we are going to make sure our board is functioning properly. Every organization has issues, we just want to stay ontop of ours as they come," said SMILE board president.