LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The chief executive of the foundation that supports the hunger-relief organization Heifer International has sued four foundation board members, alleging that he was suspended in retaliation for raising questions about internal policies.
Domingo Barrios, CEO of Heifer International Foundation, alleges in the lawsuit that the four tried to cause him to be fired or resign. In the lawsuit, filed July 25 in Pulaski County Circuit Court, he is seeking $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Heifer International works with communities worldwide to end hunger and poverty by providing livestock and agricultural training. The foundation, established in 1991, manages about $75 million in endowments to support the Little Rock-based organization’s work.
Barrios, who was named CEO of the foundation in June 2010, alleges in the lawsuit that C. Douglas Smith of Virginia, Marcia E. Williams of Tennessee, Don Hammond of New York and Norman Doll of Wisconsin have "taken actions calculated to cause a termination of his contract with (the Heifer Foundation) and/or to otherwise force his resignation."
He said he had been placed on administrative leave because he spoke up about violations of the governance policies of both organizations. Barrios said it was a conflict of interest for the board members to sit on the boards of both Heifer International and Heifer Foundation.
Barrios’ lawsuit said the situation came to a head when he told foundation board members that a Heifer International resolution on funding and donor gifts would hurt the Heifer Foundation. The resolution gave Heifer International’s CEO power over unrestricted bequests and control over planned giving, Barrios said, a move that would "destroy one of the primary purposes" of the foundation.
The lawsuit specifies that both Heifer International and Heifer Foundation are protected by Arkansas’ charitable immunity doctrine and can’t be sued.
Shannon Boshears, a representative of the foundation, said Tuesday the organization hasn’t been served with the lawsuit yet and doesn’t comment on litigation.
Smith couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. There was no answer at a number for Marcia E. Williams in Nashville, and a woman who answered the phone at Doll’s residence said he wasn’t there and wouldn’t comment. Hammond couldn’t be located for comment.
Barrios is still CEO, Boshears said.
The Chubb Group of Insurance Cos. also has been named as a defendant. Chubb insures both Heifer International and the foundation.