Jeffrey Hunt, who was fired in April from his job as executive director of the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce, is suing the nonprofit, alleging his termination was retaliation for disclosures he made of alleged financial irregularities he encountered while in the role.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, alleges that Perry Sholes, the NORBCC’s chairman, and other unnamed members of its executive committee fired Hunt after he had disclosed to the board “evidence of unlawful financial practices and violations of law, policies and procedures of the nonprofit.”
Hunt, who is originally from North Carolina, was let go just four months after taking the job as executive director of the networking organization for New Orleans area Black businesspeople.
At the time Hunt was hired, Sholes praised him for having the “vision, passion, and skills to lead us into new places and spaces full of opportunities.” When he was fired, NORBCC said only that it had “released Jeffery Hunt from his duties.”
Neither Sholes nor any other board member have commented further about Hunt’s abrupt departure. But Hunt said in an interview at the time that Sholes and Ruby Brown, a lawyer for the organization, had told him he was being fired because he had failed to reveal that he was under investigation for alleged financial misconduct in his previous employment as CEO of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce in New York.
Hunt said in April that the Columbia County investigation involved expenses “of more than $3,000” that he submitted in good faith, and that he was negotiating to resolve the issue. He said he had disclosed details of the situation to Sholes and others at the Black Chamber during his interviews for the New Orleans job.
In the lawsuit filed on Monday, Hunt alleges that during his brief tenure at the NORBCC, he had disclosed to the board several “improprieties” and “potential malfeasance” about the way NORBCC’s finances were handled.
Specifically, he alleges that $17,000 in connection with the “Women Doing Business” conference in April was not properly accounted for. He also alleges that a coterie within the group’s executive committee controlled spending and sponsorship decisions and didn’t properly disclose financial information, in contravention of rules governing how nonprofit organizations should operate.
Sholes declined to comment on the lawsuit. Jon Renthrope, CEO of Cajun Fire Brewery who was named interim executive director of the NORBCC in May, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Grounds to terminate
In early April at a board retreat, the lawsuit said that Hunt revealed to the board “violations of nonprofit law, including the failure to file tax forms since 2017.”
Hunt claims that disclosure initiated a series of retaliatory actions by Sholes and other unnamed members of the executive committee “who were unhappy with plaintiff’s whistleblower activity to the board of directors (and who then) took part in investigating the dispute plaintiff had with his former employer in an attempt to invent grounds to terminate plaintiff.”
The lawsuit claims Hunt was discriminated against and wrongfully terminated in contravention of Louisiana employment law because of his whistleblower activities. It also claims breach of contract because he was offered and accepted the job offer after revealing the dispute with the previous employer.
Hunt said he relied on the NORBCC contract and incurred considerable expenses to relocate to New Orleans for the job.
The lawsuit doesn’t specify an amount of damages but is looking for compensation of all “back pay and front pay” and the costs of bringing the legal action.
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