OAKDALE -- The former executive director of the Oak Valley Hospital Foundation is suing the public hospital district and its former chief executive officer, alleging wrongful termination, breach of contract and defamation.
Amy Thompson alleges that she was fired because she campaigned on behalf of three challengers running for the district's board of directors in the November 2010 election. The challengers Dan Cummins, Wendell Chun and Louise Sanders ran on a platform that was critical of then-CEO John Friel.
Friel was not able to get the contract extension he sought after the three were elected. The board placed him on paid administrative leave in October 2011 during the last four months of his contract. Friel now is the CEO of a Southern California hospital.
The lawsuit states that Thompson's political activities were conducted on her own time and were constitutionally protected. The lawsuit further alleges that Friel made false statements about Thompson, failed to provide the foundation board with evidence of why Thompson should be fired and violated the foundation's bylaws by not getting the foundation board's consent before firing Thompson in August 2011.
The foundation is the fund-raising arm of the hospital district. The district pays for the executive director's salary and some of the foundation's other costs. Thompson had been foundation executive director since 2001.
According to the lawsuit, "The termination was substantially due to (Thompson's) constitutionally and legally (protected) Political Activities
and substantially due to Friel's personal animosity towards (Thompson) for opposing him in the election."
The lawsuit says Thompson served as Cummins' campaign manager and treasurer, and walked neighborhoods and put up campaign signs for Chun and Sanders.
A time of turmoil
The hospital district which operates Oak Valley Hospital, three health clinics, a long-term care facility and four ambulance services was in turmoil during the end of Friel's tenure.
He became Oak Valley's CEO in 2002, but by the 2010 election, his critics were blaming him for poor communications between management and employees, low morale and an autocratic leadership style.
Employees say the work environment has greatly improved since John McCormick was named interim CEO in October and given the permanent job in June.
There also was controversy toward the end of Thompson's tenure. Friel said last year that the foundation was not raising enough money on behalf of the hospital. And this year, a consultant hired by McCormick reached essentially the same conclusion, which was disputed by foundation board members.
The foundation still does not have an executive director.
Sonora attorney Scott Ward filed the lawsuit on behalf of Thompson on Aug. 21 in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Ward and Thompson did not return phone calls seeking comment. Friel could not be reached for comment. McCormick said he was not aware of the lawsuit and declined to comment.
The lawsuit does not state a dollar amount Thompson is seeking.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.