Family of Woodstock officials, in their response this week to allegations contained in a lawsuit that they illegally fired longtime director of domestic violence services Kathy Welby-Moretti after she blew the whistle on alleged security lapses at a Kingston shelter for abuse victims, say she was actually fired for “illegal and inappropriate actions against the agency.”
Welby-Moretti worked for Family of Woodstock from 1986 until this July of this year. Starting in 1995, she had run all of the agency’s domestic violence programs, including case management for victims, counseling programs for batterers and the Washbourne House, a shelter that provides a temporary haven for women and children fleeing abusive partners.
But in a lawsuit filed last month Welby-Moretti claims that she was fired amid the fallout from a February 20 incident in which her ex-husband gained access to the shelter while she was working there and threatened staff. After the incident, the lawsuit claims, county officials (Family of Woodstock serves as a “lead agency” for county domestic violence services) conducted a security review and came up with a list of needed upgrades, including a better security camera system, panic buttons for staff and more secure doors. Welby-Moretti alleged that Family of Woodstock Executive Director Michael Berg failed to implement all of the proposed changes, even after she and other shelter staff complained that they did not feel safe at the facility. And at a May follow-up meeting with county officials, Welby-Moretti claims that Berg got angry after she contradicted his claims that the security upgrades were complete. A short time later, the suit claims, Welby-Moretti was removed from her supervisory post at the Washbourne House and put in a newly created and poorly defined job. Her responsibilities at the shelter were handed off to a younger, less-experienced staff member, the suit alleges. Welby-Moretti claims Berg told her that she had embarrassed him at the meeting. On July 8, Welby-Moretti said, her employment with the agency was terminated.
But in a response dated September 22, shortly after Ulster Publishing reported on the lawsuit, the agency’s board of directors claimed that Welby-Moretti’s termination was unrelated to the February incident or security concerns at the shelter. Instead, they claim, complaints about Welby-Moretti’s supervision of the shelter led them to reassign her to a new job with an identical seniority level and salary. Welby-Moretti, they said, responded by complaining to donors about her treatment and funneling traffic from Family’s website to another domestic violence program that she had created.
“Ms. Moretti’s allegations that the proposal to transfer her responsibilities and her ultimate termination were the result of the agency not being willing to make necessary security changes are not true,” the letter reads. “In fact, those security changes have been completed.”
The letter claims that in early February, the agency conducted a review of all programs to determine where improvements could be made, including anonymous staff surveys. The directors say that the survey turned up “serious concerns” about Welby-Moretti’s supervision of staff at the shelter. Those concerns, the board writes, were confirmed in follow-up surveys of former shelter staff.
Meanwhile, the board stated, Family of Woodstock had received some additional funding to expand its domestic violence outreach and nonresidential programs. The decision was made to split up responsibility for domestic violence programs by creating a separate position of program director for non-residential support services. The new post which was offered to Welby-Moretti in May would include supervising support groups, court advocacy, case management, individual counseling and outreach. Welby-Moretti would have maintained her current salary and seniority under the proposal.
“The agency tried to find an alternative position for that would allow her to remain in a leadership position and utilize her strengths, particularly in public relations and outreach,” the board wrote.
The letter claims that when Welby-Moretti expressed reluctance to take the new post, she was given time off to think about it. During that time, the letter claims, she began to criticize her treatment to key donors to the agency. One funding source, the letter claims, said that they would no longer fund Family programs after hearing Welby-Moretti’s gripes. The board claims that Welby-Moretti also changed a Family website to redirect traffic to an entity she had created at her personal e-mail address and shut down Family’s domestic violence services Facebook page. Two months later, when Welby-Moretti said she was not interested in the new job, the nonprofit fired her for what the board deemed “illegal and inappropriate actions against the agency.”
Welby-Moretti’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and makes claims of age discrimination, retaliation and infliction of emotional distress. The suit also claims damages under a section of state law that forbids discrimination based on a person’s status as a victim of domestic violence.