1. News

Women who previously worked for Pinellas CEO echo allegations of discrimination and verbal abuse

Three former Religious Community Services employees are suing President and CEO Kirk Ray Smith, alleging he repeatedly made inappropriate comments about their dress and verbally abused them. Six former YMCA of Greater Springfield employees say the claims in the lawsuit are consistent with the hostile workplace they endured when Smith was their boss. {MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Jun. 7

CLEARWATER — Kristine Allard loved her job as chief operating officer at the YMCA in Springfield, Mass. But she had to quit four years ago, she said, because of how afraid and unhappy she was working for its then-CEO Kirk Ray Smith.

Allard said those feelings came rushing back last week when she learned three former employees of the Clearwater nonprofit Religious Community Services are suing Smith and the organization. They claim Smith — the nonprofit's chief executive — repeatedly made inappropriate comments and verbally abused staffers, then retaliated against them when they complained.

"It brought back so many horrible memories,'' Allard said. "I felt a sinking pit in my stomach."

In all, six former YMCA employees told the Times the allegations in the lawsuit and discrimination complaints describe exactly the same workplace environment they endured when Smith was CEO of the YMCA between 2011 and 2015. All six plan to file affidavits in support of the three Pinellas women, who say Smith routinely demeaned and shouted at them and in some instances, touched them inappropriately.

Related: Three former workers allege discrimination and retaliation at Pinellas non-profit

Created in 1967 by local congregations of different faiths, Religious Community Services employs about 70 people. Its operations include a food bank, a center for women at risk of domestic abuse and a shelter for homeless families. It reported raising $7.3 million in donations and grants in the 2017 fiscal year, the latest for which records are available. A year earlier, its CEO position was advertised with a base salary of $100,000.

Officials at the nonprofit say they will vigorously contest the lawsuit, which was filed in Pinellas County court by Suzanne Ruley, Lisa Matzner and Erica Wiedemann. Ruley and Wiedemann claimed they were fired after they brought their complaints about Smith directly to the nonprofit's governing board.

Religious Community Services spokeswoman Lauren Misa did not return repeated calls and emails seeking comment from Smith and the organization on the allegations from former YMCA employees. Board Chairman David Siracusa said in an email that all questions must be directed to Amy Drushal, the non-profit's attorney.

Drushal declined to answer specific questions, saying she can't comment on pending litigation. In a motion asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, Drushal stated that Ruley and Wiedemann were fired for poor performance.

Five of the six former YMCA employees said they regretted not making formal complaints against Smith for the way they were treated in Springfield. That included former executive assistants Caitlin Maloney and Deleney Magoffin.

Magoffin, who was later promoted to chief of staff, said it was common for Smith to scream at employees about their failings in front of their peers. He had staffers pick up his children from school and drive them home, she said.

Almost every day, he would comment on the clothes worn by female employees. When they wore dressier outfits with heels, he would make comments that they had dressed up for him, she said. When one co-worker wore a dress with a front zipper, Smith asked her if that was for easy access, Magoffin said.

She said Smith frequently would touch her on the forearm when he sat next to her at meetings or come up behind her and let his hands linger on her shoulders.

After she became pregnant, Smith announced at a board meeting that she was expecting when Magoffin still hadn't informed her extended family.

"He would call the baby in my belly 'Kirk Jr.,' '' she said. "He said the baby would recognize his voice before my husband's."

Robin Olejarz worked as chief financial officer for the YMCA between 2004 and 2011. She said the high staff turnover that occurred at Religious Community Services also happened under Smith's leadership at the YMCA, where virtually the entire leadership team ended up finding other jobs because of what she calls a toxic workplace environment.

Smith told one executive director who was going through a divorce that she should "keep her legs closed," Olejarz said.

"We didn't come forward because we didn't want the Y to be dragged through the mud," she said. "We hoped the board would act sooner and get rid of him."

Smith left the YMCA abruptly in May 2015. His resignation letter to board members included a complaint that he endured a "number of racially charged attacks, character assassinations and the undermining of my authority," according to a report in The Republican newspaper.

Allard, who as chief operating officer was essentially Smith's No. 2, said Smith told her she would never get his job because he had made it a "black man's job." She said she sometimes got text messages from Smith when she was at church on Sunday furious that she hadn't taken his call.

Katie Weiss worked for the YMCA as executive officer associate and program director for five years through 2015. She said Smith liked to pit employees against one another and when a staffer was leaving he would tell the others never to speak with them again, she said. He told staff he was the face of the organization and it was their job to protect him.

Numerous times he would stand uncomfortably close to her and put his hands on her shoulders, she said.

"Seeing just the way that everybody was treated altogether was awful," she said. "I went home crying a lot."


  1. Joanne Glenn, Pasco eSchool principal, addresses the eSchool faculty on opening day of teacher preplanning week in 2018. Pasco eSchool is launching its first online dual-enrollment courses in conjunction with Pasco-Hernando State College in the second semester.  GAIL DIEDERICH | Special to the Times
    Students will have access to two sections of two courses — microapplications and public speaking.
  2. Challenger K-8 School students, from left, Jeremy Gonzalez, 13, Jackson Hoyt, 12, Benjamin Harper, 12, and Gianni Labdar, 12, finish meals consisting of fresh salads, quesadillas and nachos during a lunch service on Oct. 15 at the school in Spring Hill during the county's Fresh from Florida Plate Day event. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Starting a farm-to-school initiative has been more complicated than district officials expected.
  3. Tampa Bay homeowners are now able to sell their homes to Zillow. Zillow
    It joins Opendoor and Offerpad in making "instant'' offers.
  4. The microbrewery Double Branch Artisanal Ales is the first tenant signed at The Grove after the acquisition of the Wesley Chapel shopping center last month by Mishorim-Gold Properties for nearly $63 million. Double Branch Artisanal Ales.
    Mark Gold wants The Grove at Wesley Chapel to become the community’s downtown
  5. Jorge Zambrana and Fabiola Montealegre listen to the music at the Town 'N Country Senior Center. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    It all started at the exercise bike, after he approached her. He had a feeling.
  6. District 3 City Council candidates Orlando Acosta, left, and Ed Montanari. Scott Keeler, Chris Urso
    The St. Petersburg City Council races are supposed to be nonpartisan. Partisan politics are leaking into the campaign anyway.
  7. Disco Freak will perform music from the 1970s in a free concert Oct. 27 at the South Holiday Library. Pasco County Libraries
    Things to do in Pasco and Hernando counties
  8. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The driver of a Ford F250 truck took evasive action but collided with the pedestrian, officials say.
  9. Hernando County sheriff’s sergeant  Louis “Lou” Genovese died Saturday after struggling for weeks with an undisclosed medical condition, according to the Sheriff's Office. He was 41. HERNANDO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE  |  Hernando County Sheriff's Office
    Sergeant Louis “Lou” Genovese, a deputy since 2006, was 41.
  10. FILE - This June 2, 2017, file image made from video shows the Trump National Doral in Doral, Fla. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, he is reversing his plan to hold the next Group of Seven world leaders' meeting at his Doral, Florida, golf resort. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File) ALEX SANZ  |  AP
    The chief of staff called Trump’s sudden change of course — announced by the president on Twitter Saturday evening — “the right decision.”