Updated: 05/06/2014 10:34 PM
Created: 05/06/2014 10:29 PM WDIO.com
There's new legal trouble for one of Minnesota's best-known charities. There was a shakeup, an investigation, and now a lawsuit has been filed against the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone.
The sanctuary, which is about an hour south of Duluth, is one of 9,000 non profits registered with the state. It relies on private donations to operate.
Six former employees filed a lawsuit saying they were fired or forced to resign because they told the Board of Directors, that the executive director was misusing the charity's money. WDIO's sister station KSTP asked Trista Fischer what she wanted out of filing a complaint. “Myself and others are hoping we can get our jobs back at the Wildcat Sanctuary," Fischer said.
She helped care for the 100-plus cats at the refuge, "it wasn't just a job for us, it’s something we want to do for life," Fischer said.
She added her name to the civil lawsuit against the non-profit. The suit relies on Minnesota's Whistleblower Act, and alleges defamation and retaliation toward six staffers who reported founder Tammy Thies used charity money to pay for personal things like groceries, makeup, even skydiving lessons for her husband. "They saw what was happening, they spoke up, they did the right thing and they got punished for it. That's why this case is important," according to her attorney, Craig Brandt.
Brandt says 20 percent of his business comes from whistleblower lawsuits. The law protects employees from retaliation if they report illegal behavior by the employer. "This lawsuit absolutely sends a message that the whistleblower statute applies to all employers in Minnesota," Brandt said. It also includes state agencies and private companies, not just non-profits.
"I don't regret coming forward because if we didn't come forward then it would continue, there would be no presentation that you need to stop this behavior," Fischer said.
"The Wildcat Sanctuary plans to defend vigorously the claims in court," Rob Leer, a spokesman for the charity said.
Last month, the Sanctuary agreed to improve policies and financial practices.
Duluth Delegation Heads to State Capitol to Rally for a Second Chance
Dozens of people left Duluth for the state Capitol on Thursday, to fight for a population they say needs a second chance. The delegation went to St. Paul to rally for reduced drug sentencing laws, and restored felon voting rights.
Debate Over Access to Body Camera Footage Arrives at Minn. Capitol
The issue of body camera privacy is hitting the Minnesota House floor. A law enforcement-backed proposal to put strict limits on who sees the footage was introduced Thursday in the House, and a Senate version isn't far behind.
More Money for Loan Forgiveness for Medical Professionals
Lawmakers have introduced bills to add more people to the list who are eligible for loan forgiveness. The goal is to encourage medical professionals to work in rural areas.
Bakk: Pass New Money for Roads This Year or Punt to 2017
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk is cranking up the pressure to pass a major transportation package this year.
Minn. Bill Would Require Talking to Doctor before Skipping Vaccine
A Minnesota lawmaker wants parents who don't vaccinate their children to meet with a doctor first. Rep. Mike Freiberg has a bill that would require those parents to learn about vaccines and their impact on diseases from a health care provider.