Prominent city leader disturbed by allegations of toxic work environment at nonprofit

Prominent city leader disturbed by allegations of toxic work environment at nonprofit

PITTSBURGH — One of Pittsburgh’s top officials is calling for answers over allegations of a toxic work environment at a local nonprofit.

Pittsburgh City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said she was disturbed by claims of racial, homophobic and religious slurs used by management at the Center for Victims.

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11 Investigates has spoken to more than a dozen current and former employees who echoed those concerns.

Upon leaving the nonprofit, several of those employees also wrote letters to the board of directors detailing issues – letters they claim went unanswered.

“If they’re not acting on the information because for some reason they believe the accusations to be false, I think we need to know that and we need to know why there have been no actions taken,” Kail-Smith said.

In a statement last week, Center for Victims CEO Laurie MacDonald and Board President Lynn Griffin denied any wrongdoing and said complaints were taken seriously.

“That included investigating the specific complaints, examining the state of employee morale, and reviewing the reasons for staff turnover. The board also expanded its oversight of the organization, including expanded supervision of the organization’s management team,” the statement read in part.

You can read that full report from 11 Investigates here and watch our original story below.

When asked for a comment Wednesday on Kail-Smith’s call for answers, MacDonald referred to their previous statement since they can’t discuss personnel matters.

Online city records show the Center for Victims received more than $35,000 in city contracts in 2019.

But Kail-Smith wants to see the issues have been properly addressed before additional contracts are given.

“I don’t know the board members personally,” she said. “I would like to know what exactly is happening there and to make sure our tax dollars are accounted for and being used wisely.”

Full statement from the Center for Victims below:

"This statement is issued by Lynn Griffin, Board Chair, and Laurie Z. MacDonald, President/CEO, Center for Victims:

At the Center for Victims, we highly regard the privacy of our employees and do not discuss individual personnel matters, including the lawsuit filed by a former employee, who turned to the courts after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission closed her case involving our organization. The Commission specifically noted that it was unable to conclude that the Center violated any statutes. We believe we acted appropriately in this matter and we intend to defend our organization and its reputation against this lawsuit.

The anonymous letter referenced in the January 10 story aired by WPXI lists a series of highly inflammatory allegations, some of which were raised several years ago by former employees or through other unsigned correspondence. All the allegations contained in the current anonymous letter are unsupported by any evidence and appear to be designed to damage the Center and inhibit its ability to serve its clients. The accusers have never taken advantage of the processes we have in place to address grievances and we are unable to resolve their concerns while they refuse to come forward with evidence or identify themselves.

When concerns were brought to the Center’s attention several years ago, our staff and board took them seriously and took formal action. That included investigating the specific complaints, examining the state of employee morale, and reviewing the reasons for staff turnover. The board also expanded its oversight of the organization, including expanded supervision of the organization’s management team.

And, even though there was no evidence that any discriminatory activity had occurred, when these negative communications came to us in 2018, we immediately took steps to review and improve internal processes, training opportunities, communications and policies. The Board of Directors actively participated in this process, along with a wide cross-section of staff.

The Center for Victims’ Board of Directors takes its fiduciary duties to CV seriously and has taken these steps and more to ensure that the organization is properly managed and upper management is properly carrying out its duties.

The staff at the Center for Victims prides itself on providing an inclusive work environment where discrimination of any kind if strictly prohibited, where employees are treated with dignity and respect, and where it works together to heal trauma, support victims and create social change for a more peaceful community."

Organization known for helping victims stands accused of victimizing its own employees