Lutheran Services faces 2nd firing suit

The agency is accused of retaliation against another employee whistle-blower.

By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published October 18, 2007

TAMPA - For the second time in two years, an ousted Lutheran Services Florida employee has gone to court to accuse the statewide nonprofit agency of mismanaging millions in government grants.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Joy Margolis says she was fired in September from her job as director of communications and public policy in retaliation for objecting to the agency's practices.

She wants her job back.

Lutheran Services' new chief executive Sam Sipes could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Margolis says Sipes and retiring CEO James Wells conspired to fire her under the guise of downsizing.

"For more than 13 years, I served as LSF's spokeswoman to the media and the public, and my job was to tell the truth about issues involving the agency, which I always did," Margolis said. "However, when I told the truth to the LSF president and CEO, the result was that my position was eliminated."

Her accusations in the lawsuit echo those leveled by the agency's former vice president of program services, Dr. Peter Ledecky.

He sued Lutheran Services in 2005, claiming that the agency fired him for blowing the whistle about what he said were accounting improprieties and illegal practices with government grants.

That case was settled, but the terms are confidential, said attorney Ryan Christopher Rodems, who represented Ledecky and now Margolis.

Lutheran Services provides myriad services statewide, include youth shelters, employment programs, adult guardianship and refugee resettlement. The agency received $26-million in government grants last year, or 85 percent of its revenue, according to its 2006 annual report.

The lawsuit states that agency officials inflated anticipated costs when seeking grants. Then they cut budgets and reduced the staff to create a surplus that they skimmed and diverted to other programs rather than returning the leftover money to the government agencies that issued the grants.

Margolis also accuses officials of misappropriating private donations.

She says Wells denied her a raise this year in retaliation for her objections and complaints of gender discrimination.

Staff writer Saundra Amrhein contributed to this report. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or 813 226-3337.