Fired nonprofit chief sues Hammond over dismissal

2013-03-11T17:30:00Z 2013-03-12T00:15:03Z Fired nonprofit chief sues Hammond over dismissalChelsea Schneider Kirk, (219) 933-3241

HAMMOND | The fired director of a Hammond nonprofit has filed suit in federal court, contending she was let go from the position because she ran for City Council.

Carlotta Blake-King is suing Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., along with the nonprofit agency United Neighborhoods Inc.

City Councilman Anthony Higgs, who Blake-King ran against for City Council in 2011, Phil Taillon, executive director of the city's Department of Planning and Development, and attorney Nicole Bennett also are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Blake-King argues in the complaint filed Monday in federal court that the defendants conspired to fire her from her leadership role at UNI in retaliation for her running for office.

McDermott said Monday what Blake-King is alleging in the suit is "completely untrue." He said over the course of a couple years Blake-King was found to be an "unsatisfactory" leader of the agency.

"Repeatedly she was warned and counseled," McDermott said, "and what she is alleging is completely untrue. We're going to do what we can to defend the city and UNI, Inc."

Blake-King was fired from the position in 2011, and at the time, Taillon told The Times her firing wasn't related to her candidacy for office.

The complaint alleges McDermott was angry at Blake-King for deciding to run for City Council against Higgs, who he was reportedly supporting for the office.

According to the complaint, McDermott wanted Blake-King's help with his re-election bid for mayor and worried “by running for City Council she would not be able to adequately help and support his campaign.”

Blake-King also argues that Taillon, who served as president of UNI's Board of Directors, was concerned the nonprofit's funding could be jeopardized if she declared a political party.

According to the complaint, UNI received $100,000 per year from Taillon's department, along with discretionary gaming money in the range of $98,000 to $160,000 per year to support the creation of affordable housing in the city.

The complaint states Blake-King was fired after a “special meeting' of UNI's Board of Directors where she alleges Taillon “berated” her character and work performance.

At the closed meeting, the complaint contends Bennett advised the board that Blake-King running for office while serving as UNI's director violated a federal act that bars certain employees from taking part in partisan politics.

Before her firing, Higgs also had sent Blake-King a letter through the City Council questioning the legality of her running for office while being employed at UNI, the complaint states.

Blake-King is requesting the wages and benefits she would have received if she wasn't fired from UNI through the lawsuit.

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