Former leader of Pinellas Early Learning Coalition sues agency over her firing

Published May 10, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — A former executive director of the Pinellas Early Learning Coalition has filed a lawsuit against the nonprofit agency claiming she was fired last year because she filed an ethics complaint against the coalition board's chairwoman.

In the five-page complaint filed April 28 in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, Janet Chapman claims the board violated the state's whistleblower law when it voted in October to fire her. The suit says board chairwoman Julie Daniels ramped up a campaign to fire Chapman after she filed the ethics complaint alleging that Daniels used her position to secure child care for a friend's child.

Daniels also is named as a defendant in the suit. Chapman seeks damages in excess of $15,000 for "loss of income, loss of earning capacity, reputation damages and loss of other employment benefits.

Reached Friday, Daniels declined to comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit makes no mention of the controversy that erupted in July when the Tampa Bay Times reported that the agency returned $2.4 million in unspent state and federal funds intended to lower the cost of day care for poor families. The decision angered child care advocates who estimated as many as 500 children could have benefited, and led some board members to doubt Chapman's ability to lead the organization.

After initially claiming that cost-cutting had caused the surplus, Chapman later apologized and said it was the result of a sharp enrollment decline. The coalition had previously lowered its age cutoff from 12 to 9 years old in an attempt to focus on younger children, a move that rendered many ineligible.