8:37pm PT by Jonathan Handel
Fired Employee Sues SAG Pension & Health Plan for Wrongful Termination
Craig Simmons, the SAG Pension & Health Plan’s former head of human resources and information technology, sued the Plan for wrongful termination Thursday, alleging that he was discharged a year ago after reporting alleged illegal conduct by the organization’s CEO, Bruce Dow.
The suit was not unexpected. Since his termination, which Simmons says occurred on March 25, 2011, he has made public a letter he sent to the Plan’s trustees and a complaint he filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. The Plan responded by having an outside investigation conducted, which resulted in a Dec. 22 statement from the Plan that most of Simmons’ allegations -- including at least some in the lawsuit -- “are false.”
The Plan (more formally, the Screen Actors Guild -- Producers Pension and Health Plans) is a separate organization from SAG itself and is governed by a board of trustees composed of an equal number of management- and union-appointed trustees. That structure is required by law for multi-employer plans, including those associated with other entertainment unions.
Simmons alleges that he was terminated “because he refused to cover up Dow’s illegal misconduct but instead opposed and complained to the Board of Trustees” about the conduct/ Simmons alleges was that Dow underreported the amount of money embezzled by a former employee, was sending insurance business to his wife and pocketing part of the premiums, was paying his brother-in-law for doing no work and was using insider investment information to benefit the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, of which Dow is a director.
He’s seeking unspecified damages and a jury trial.
In its Dec. 22 statement, the Plan said, “The independent investigator found that most of Mr. Simmons' allegations are false, including his claims that Mr. Dow is anti-gay, that he caused the Plans to improperly reimburse health expenses for his wife, that he caused Plan employees to work on his home and perform personal chores for him, that he promoted employees who were unqualified and that he instructed staff to mislead U.S. Department of Labor auditors.”
The Plan acknowledged that a former employee had misappropriated about$2 million but said the matter had already been “successfully resolved” and that substantially all of the losses had been recovered from insurance.
The Los Angeles Times reported in October that Simmons himself was involved in steering work to his spouse, which is one of the things he alleges Dow was doing. The story quoted Simmons as acknowledging that he had done so.
Dow took a 60-day medical leave in January that would have ended at the beginning of March. He hadn’t returned to work as of last week, and it is unknown whether he has done so.
Simmons has spoken out at several public meetings of SAG members opposed to merger with AFTRA. Opposition to merger focuses in part on debate over what effect merging the unions might have on the level of SAG members’ pension and health benefits.
That’s a subject of both debate and a pending lawsuit in federal court that seeks to pre-emptively void the merger vote. A decision on pending motions in the suit could come at any time. If not blocked, the votes will be tallied March 30.
A media report last week said a federal probe is ongoing into alleged fraud, embezzlement and cover-ups at the Plan and that government officials raided or took documents from the Plan, including its California and Massachusetts offices. The Plan said there was “absolutely no validity to the story” and added that it doesn’t even have a Massachusetts office.
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