ashland.news
June 22, 2024

Trial set in $760K YMCA lawsuit

The Ashland Family YMCA at the corner of Tolman Creek Road and Ashland Street in November 2022. Ashland.news photo by Bert Etling
May 28, 2023

Former personal trainer claims age discrimination, other employment law violations led to her termination

By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news

An October trial date has been set in a lawsuit against the Ashland Family YMCA by a woman who claims she was wrongfully terminated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former personal trainer Jane Mullowney is seeking $760,320 for alleged age discrimination and violations of the Family Medical Leave Act, Oregon Family Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Oregon Fair Employment Practices Act.

An Oct. 24 trial is set before Judge Charles Kochlacs in Jackson County Circuit Court, with proceedings scheduled to last four days. 

Defendants include the YMCA, former CEO Dan Crocker and former Human Resources Director Kim Souza. They have denied wrongdoing and have asked for the suit to be dismissed.

Mullowney filed suit June 4, 2021, claiming her rights were violated when she was laid off July 28, 2020. The lawsuit, which presents only Mullowney’s side of the story, claims Souza told Mullowney she was let go due to her age (65 at the time) and vulnerability to COVID-19, with the facility observing strict lockdown protocols at the time.

Souza then allegedly told Mullowney she could re-apply for her position in the future. When Mullowney attempted to re-apply that August, Souza allegedly said they were not hiring.

When Mullowney spoke with Crocker about the issue, he allegedly said she was laid off to help her collect unemployment. However, in December 2020, defendants challenged Mullowney’s unemployment claim alleging she quit voluntarily, causing her to temporarily lose benefits.

Her benefits were restored the following March after defendants failed to appear for a hearing in the matter.

Mullowney claims the pandemic may have been a pretext to fire her amid existing displeasure from Crocker. She cited an employee review conducted in November of 2019 during which Crocker allegedly called her a “bottom-feeder” and said her exercise technique lacked artistry, despite Mullowney’s classes regularly being full and clients asking for her by name. 

Defendants denied telling Mullowney she could reapply or that she was terminated to allow her to collect unemployment. They said there is no legal basis for the court to grant Mullowney relief and asked for the suit to be dismissed and for Mullowney to pay defendants’ attorneys fees and a prevailing party fee.

On May 25, Mullowney attorney Thomas Dimitre issued a press release saying it is important for the community to be aware of the alleged wrongdoing taking place at the YMCA. The release included statements from Mullowney describing how, she claims, the hardship of the pandemic was made worse by defendants’ alleged behavior.

“My termination from the YMCA was devastating,” said Mullowney. “I had built up a good client base, and was starting to feel secure economically. When I was fired, I went into a downward spiral, and I came this close to being homeless. It was only because of the largess of my landlord that I wasn’t out on the street or sleeping in my car.”

Dimitre won a settlement in a separate discrimination case against the YMCA last year when the organization agreed to pay $285,000 to former Sports Director Nkeruwem “Tony” Akpan for racial discrimination. Akpan, a Nigerian national, was prevented from performing the duties of his job by former Senior Program Director Kelsey Rittenhouse, who claimed clients and coworkers could not understand Akpan’s accent.

Akpan filed a formal complaint against Rittenhouse Jan. 6, 2020, requesting an investigation. Instead of responding to this request, defendants allegedly presented Akpan with a performance evaluation criticizing his work ethic, despite previously positive employment reviews.

Crocker allegedly told Akpan this negative evaluation would be removed from his record if Akpan agreed to drop the complaint against Rittenhouse, but if he did not defendants “would come down on him,” said the suit. 

Faced with this pressure, Akpan agreed to withdraw his complaint. Crocker later terminated Akpan’s employment effective Sept. 4, 2020.

Akpan filed suit Oct. 26, 2020, seeking $950,000 for numerous employment law violations, including alleged racial discrimination and harassment, workplace retaliation and whistleblower retaliation. Defendants denied wrongdoing and said any damages suffered by Akpan were the result of his own failure to reduce harm, including his refusal to accept an alternative position. 

The suit was dismissed Oct. 4, 2022, after parties agreed to a settlement. Defendants were released of all liability and made no admission of wrongdoing.

Email Ashland.news reporter Stephen Floyd at sfloydmedia@gmail.com.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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