Fired Louisville Urban League CEO alleges retaliation for exposing wrongdoing
Former Louisville Urban League CEO Kish Cumi Price is suing the West End-based nonprofit, claiming she was retaliated against for uncovering financial impropriety.
In a lawsuit filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court on Friday, Price alleged numerous conflicts of interest and improper sharing of funds between the Louisville Urban League and the separate nonprofit that runs the Norton Healthcare Sports and Learning Complex. The League spearheaded the $53 million fundraising effort to build the track and field facility. The lawsuit also includes allegations that the national Urban League expressed concerns with the way the local organization was handling education and health grants. WDRB News first reported the lawsuit on Friday.
Tom Coffey, a lawyer representing Price, said his client had discussed the concerning discoveries with the League’s board and was working to bring in an outside firm to conduct a comprehensive audit. But Coffey said the board fired Price right before she was set to give an update on her findings at a meeting on March 21.
“She had every intention of bringing [her concerns] to the board at a full board meeting on March 21, but she got fired before then,” Coffey said.
The lawsuit brought by Price names Sadiqa Reynolds, the former CEO and president of the League and the principal officer of the 501(c)(3) Louisville Urban League Sports and Learning Complex, Inc. as a defendant. According to Price, Reynolds knew about the improper sharing of staff between the two organizations.
In a statement Monday, Reynolds said Price’s allegations “have no merit.”
“When I recommended to the Board that [Price] lead the Louisville Urban League, an organization I care so much about, I had every hope and confidence for her success,” Reynolds said. “What unfolded over her 5 month tenure, the board concluded, required her termination.”
Representatives for the League have also denied the allegations, calling the lawsuit “baseless” and “meritless.” The organization said it would “vigorously defend” itself in court to protect its “mission, vision and value.”
“We are deeply saddened by [Price’s] actions as they detract from both the League’s significant accomplishments and its important work in this community,” the statement read.
The Louisville Urban League was founded in 1920 with the goal of raising the standard of living in the city’s historically Black neighborhoods. It runs programs focused on job training, affordable housing creation and health education.
“You cannot bury your head in the sand”
In her lawsuit, Price said she began to hear concerning information about the League’s financials on her first day as CEO, Nov. 1, 2022. She said that’s when someone informed her that the League used $2 million of a $7.5 million grant to pay off an existing loan, without informing the donor.
“However, this loan payoff necessitated [the League] informing one of its partners and largest donors, Humana, Inc., so to reconfigure one of the partners committed funding streams,” the lawsuit alleges.
Price said, in early January, the national Urban League began informing the League of concerns about how it was utilizing education grants, as well as federal health grants.
The League received a $2.5 million grant in 2021 from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth to build new affordable housing in west Louisville. The League was expected to construct 50 homes with the funding.
But Price alleges the League had built just six homes as of March. She said the organization’s “housing partners” informed her that the League’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer “were inexplicably slow to release the monies which impacted their ability to secure properties.” Price’s complaint does not say what happened to the rest of the money.
The lawsuit details conflicts of interest and “commingling of grants” between the League and its Sports and Learning Complex, which Price alleges “would be improper and potentially illegal.”
Price is accusing the two separate nonprofits of having “a shared headcount.”
“In essence, [the League’s] employees were expected to work for the Sports and Learning Complex, directed by the President of the SLC, while being paid by the [the League],” the lawsuit says.
Price also alleges the Sports and Learning Complex used a $1 million education grant from the Brown-Forman Corporation, despite strict instructions to the League that the money could not be used for the Complex.
On March 17, Price said Anthony Leachman, the League’s CFO, disclosed the “frightening information” to her that he had been working as the unofficial CFO for the track and field facility, but his contract had never been updated to reflect that. She alleges Leachman had a consulting business whose clients had contracts with the Sports and Learning Complex, which would be a clear conflict of interest.
Price planned to discuss all of the issues she had uncovered with the League’s Board of Directors, her lawyer said.
“When you’re the CEO in particular, you can not bury your head in the sand,” Coffey said. “You have an obligation to get to the bottom of things.”
A day before she was set to meet with the Board, they announced Price was “transitioning out” of her role as CEO just five months after she was hired. Lyndon Pryor, the Urban League’s Chief Engagement Officer, was appointed interim president and CEO.
Price claims she was terminated without cause and in direct retaliation for her efforts to investigate potential impropriety. She’s asking the court for monetary damages for lost compensation and benefits, as well as “substantial damages for humiliation and embarrassment.” She’s also requesting a jury trial.