Second lawsuit alleges mistreatment by OnTrack founder Rita Sullivan
Addiction services nonprofit OnTrack is named in a new lawsuit filed in early July by former and current employees who allege whistleblower retaliation, infliction of emotional distress and violations of both state wage and family leave laws.
Melissa Shaw, an employee until her May 30 resignation, and Lisa Meadows, who the lawsuit says is still an OnTrack employee, allege mistreatment mostly by OnTrack’s founder and former Executive Director Rita Sullivan, similar to what was claimed in a 2017 lawsuit by other employees.
Included among the allegations of abusive encounters made in the 32-page complaint were Sullivan yelling expletives while hitting door frames and other objects near the two employees, threatening dismissal, and withholding wages and prohibiting them from taking family or medical leave.
Eddie Wallace, who heads communications for OnTrack, said the organization is reviewing the lawsuit with its attorney and “is not in a position to comment further.”
OnTrack’s attorney, Jeffrey Matthews, said he has “no information that suggests these newly filed claims by two former employees who voluntarily resigned from their employment with OnTrack have any merit.”
Tracy McGovern, who is representing Sullivan in both cases, used the same wording in a voicemail left with the Mail Tribune. A phone call requesting more information was not returned Monday.
Sullivan was executive director of OnTrack for 39 years, building the organization into a two-county addiction recovery services provider with more than 160 employees and $33 million in real property assets. After previous employee lawsuits alleging inappropriate behavior, the board of directors put her on paid administrative leave in November 2016. Her employment with OnTrack ended in February 2017.
OnTrack was forced to close residential treatment programs after its facilities were found by the state to be unsafe and unsanitary — and in one case were described as “deplorable housing.” In an application to restart one program, OnTrack agreed that Sullivan would have no further role in the agency. A few programs have since reopened.
Clayton J. Lance, who has represented the employees in a 2017 lawsuit alleging whistleblower retaliation and abuse, is now representing Shaw and Meadows in their lawsuit.
Lance called the allegations in the newer lawsuit “pretty self-explanatory.”
That’s, in part, because the claims are “like-kind” to the allegations of the ongoing 2017 lawsuit, he said. Amy Jacobs, Chad Cain, Deborah Neville, Cynthia Stevens and Judi Willingham are all named as plaintiffs in that case, which is scheduled for a jury trial in February 2019, according to court documents.
Meadows describes being demoted from her position as clinical director without prior warning via an announcement during an all-staff meeting. The allegations she makes date across several years; she was hired in 2005, according to the complaint.
In addition to identifying specific incidents, allegations include that Meadows experienced multiple miscarriages as a result of “the constant stress, anxiety and emotional terrorism inflicted by working for Rita Sullivan.”
After one such miscarriage in March 2017, the lawsuit alleges, Sullivan told Meadows, “Serves you right, you shouldn’t be getting pregnant anyway,” after hearing what had happened.
Shaw, the other plaintiff, resigned in May. The lawsuit includes her resignation email sent to current Executive Director Alan Ledford (spelling corrected from previous version).
“I have worked hard to diligently perform my duties under extremely challenging circumstances,” Shaw’s email said. “I am unable to further bear the stress and anxiety I feel from the trauma I have experienced here at OnTrack Rogue Valley.”
Shaw was employed as the human resources director until OnTrack leadership replaced her and told her to apply for a position outside the department, the lawsuit alleges. She, too, alleges being berated and threatened over her performance at work and for circumstances related to her personal life.
Both Shaw and Meadows claim they were not paid for overtime they worked and were not permitted to take medical or family leave.
As with the 2017 “Jacobs lawsuit,” as it’s referred to, the new complaint alleges actions dealing with harassment and violation of wage laws, including behaviors by Rick Nagel and Tonia Moro, who worked as interim executive and deputy executive directors when Sullivan was placed on leave. It also says Meadows and Shaw experienced treatment similar to what’s alleged in the Jacobs lawsuit.
Matthews, OnTrack’s attorney, told the Mail Tribune Friday that two of the employees in the first suit — Neville and Willingham — had dropped their cases without any financial settlement, but he said the details of the settlements were still being worked out.
Neville and Willingham’s lawyer was out of town Monday and did not return a call or email request for comment.
All employees in both lawsuits allege retaliation for being whistleblowers, in reporting not only the workplace behaviors but also the conditions of the nonprofit’s living facilities. The Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority investigated various OnTrack homes after finding vermin infestations and broken utilities in years past.
OnTrack has since relocated and renovated several of its group homes. The Moms and Dads programs have both reopened in Medford and are providing services for families affected by addiction and other related issues, such as homelessness.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at email@example.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.