Nursing Authority Denies Sexual Harassment Claims Colorado Springs News

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A lawsuit filed in the Denver District Court on May 13 closes what former employees of a Christian care facility in Colorado Springs believe to be years of unresolved sexual harassment claims.

Former employee Olivia Ballage claims that Hope & Home executive director Ross Wright committed discrimination based on gender, race and disability. The lawsuit also seeks retaliation from Wright.

Wright believes the situation is the latest development in what he describes as the widespread “harassment and persecution” of his organization, which accepts lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual couples as foster parents.

But he said he couldn’t discuss the matter because of the security risks the problem had created for the organization.

Hope & Home attorney Ray Deeny of the Sherman & Howard law firm said he was not served on the lawsuit, but previous investigations into such allegations “concluded that there were no sexual harassment violations.”

In a statement, Chief Executive Officer Dick Schultz said the organization “has every confidence in our judicial system” and intends to “submit fully to the legal process as it evolves”.

Former financial director of the nonprofit, Wendy Neal, said she became the whistleblower when she stepped down after five years of work in August 2019 and notified the board of directors of situations she and her staff believed constituted sexual misconduct by Wright .

“There has been a history of at least 10 years of persecuting people romantically, making gross sexual comments, and leaving people as a result,” Neal said.

The problem came to light in mid-2019 when an employee suddenly resigned and told several employees before she left that she had encountered sexual harassment at work.

At a subsequent board meeting, Neal said she heard Wright announce that the employee had left because she had been hired elsewhere.

After discovering that many women had suddenly quit their jobs, Neal said that she and other women affiliated with the organization started speaking to current and past employees.

“We’ve gathered about 20 statements, from completely sexually explicit comments he made about the women – like he’s trying to have an affair with them – to things like, ‘He makes me feel creepy,” she said.

Ballage alleges in her lawsuit that Wright “discriminated against me and other female employees by, among other things, staring at our breasts while talking to us, looking us up and down sexually, making inappropriate comments about our physical appearance and about our speech deals with events and wants us to look a certain way. “

The Hope & Home Board hired an outside workplace investigator in September 2019 to investigate the claims.

Neal said the Denver Employers Council investigator interviewed at least five former and two former employees with a foster parent.

Wright claimed employees were leaving because they were upset the organization had decided to allow same-sex couples to be foster parents, said Rev. Ellen Goad, a former Hope & Home foster parent for nearly a decade and pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs.

“That’s a lie,” she said. “That is not true.”

Goad said the issue wasn’t a factor in her decision to end her Hope & Home affiliation, adding that she is now foster parents with another agency in town that also licenses same-sex couples. Colorado law does not restrict who can offer foster care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, or marital status.

“These types of allegations are grave, and organizations that identify themselves as Christians and receive funding from individuals in addition to government funding should be made accountable to an accountability that represents the faith,” Goad said.

Board members received the investigator’s report, which was otherwise confidential, Neal said.

The board had not taken any apparent action on the matter, Neal said.

That’s because there was no need for it, said former board member Bob Lanting, who served on the charity’s board of directors for 18 years, including during the investigation.

“I’m not sure there has ever been any proven evidence,” Lanting said, adding that he had always valued Wright’s leadership.

“Ross Wright is a man of great personality who knows the childcare industry well,” said Lanting. “There are people who walk around with accusations but have nothing to back them up.”

In a statement to The Gazette, current chairman Schultz said the allegations were never reported during the employee’s time and the investigation concluded that “your allegations were unfounded.”

Marla Brown, the only female board member at the time, unexpectedly resigned from her position the day after members received the investigation report.

Her family had been with the organization for 11 years, including 10 years as a foster family, and had volunteered to train new foster parents.

While Brown said she could not disclose details of the investigation, after reading the report, she said she “felt uncomfortable about continuing her leadership role as a board member”.

“We were very emotionally engaged and we loved the organization and we put in so much time and energy and suddenly I had to leave,” she said.

Federal discrimination claims filed

Three women affiliated with Hope & Home filed petitions for discrimination in the workplace with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Denver in April 2020.

In February, the Commission rejected the claims on the grounds that no breach of discrimination had been found and the Agency had decided not to investigate.

The women were given the right to sue.

Ballage is the only one who decided to take this route.

“I want justice for myself and for other women,” she said. “In the three years that I was there, I was just totally miserable.

“I didn’t feel comfortable just letting go of it.”

Schultz said the organization’s leaders were surprised by the lawsuit.

“This particular employee (Ballage) left the organization with well-documented and unsolicited rave reviews of her time serving with Hope & Home,” he said.

Former Hope & Home employee Julie Briggs was among those who filed an EEOC lawsuit.

“The whole situation is very annoying,” she said, adding that she knew at least three employees Wright “tried to have a sexual relationship with”.

“He made people so uncomfortable with his progress that they left a career they loved to get away from him,” Briggs said.

Meghan Jackson, a former foster parent at Hope & Home, was part of a nonprofit group that submitted more than 100 pages of documents and statements to the Colorado Department of Human Services and the Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman in March 2020.

“As far as we can find women who have worked for Ross Wright at Hope & Home, there have been allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment,” she said.

The State Human Services Department updated Jackson in October, saying, “Investigations into their rule violations have been suspended until they have had a chance to conduct a personal investigation.”

Hope & Home is one of the largest agencies in the Pikes Peak area, recruiting, training, certifying, and supporting foster families, according to Julie Krow, executive director of El Paso County’s Human Services division.

It is also one of the largest in the country, providing nursing homes for more than 3,200 children and adoptive homes for about 400 children in its 23-year history, Schultz said.

The organization was founded 23 years ago by a member of the First Presbyterian Church and is not affiliated with any particular church or denomination today

Hope & Home has a good track record and Wright has made a significant impact on the community, say former employees who they believe helped have their claims outside of the court system overturned.

Schultz said, “As we navigate this situation, it is our responsibility to keep Hope & Home’s children and families as our primary focus.”



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