The controversial firing of the executive artistic director of the Spokane Civic Theatre has a new venue.
Yvonne A.K. Johnson filed a $2 million lawsuit against the theater and three of its board members Monday.
The suit, which names board President Larry Wooley and board members Robert Mielbrecht and Robert Francis, alleges that the board “secretly and egregiously” conspired to fire Johnson in violation of the theater’s bylaws and Johnson’s employment contract.
Wooley said late Tuesday afternoon that he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on many aspects of the controversy.
“It is what it is and we’ll work our way through this,” he said.
Francis and Mielbrecht declined to comment and referred questions to an attorney. Attempts made to reach the Civic’s attorney, Michael Church, were unsuccessful.
The firing was an abrupt turnabout. A month earlier, the board gave Johnson a $7,000 bonus as part of a glowing job appraisal that credited the theater’s record-setting ticket sales to her “hard work and diligence.”
Wooley emailed board members July 10 asking them to vote on whether to fire Johnson. The request surprised some on the board.
The theater announced two days later that Johnson was fired. The board has not released the final tally supporting her termination, nor has it provided its reasoning.
In an email obtained by The Spokesman-Review that was sent to board members Wednesday to announce her resignation from the board, Jennifer Ferch said Wooley told her in a phone conversation that he made the decision to fire Johnson independently of the rest of the board based on illegal activity. Her letter said that Wooley declined to explain the illegal activity to Ferch.
Board members have said the topic of firing Johnson arose at a board meeting July 9, but that the board agreed to mediate problems with Johnson.
“This progression from a bully vote to terminate which failed, to an electronic vote to terminate which I believe has failed, followed by a purported discovery of illegal activity by Ms. Johnson is quite remarkable,” Ferch wrote. “I am skeptical both of the strategy employed by certain members of the board, and of the validity of the alleged claims of illegal activity. From my perception, the possible conspiratorial nature of how this has transpired is unseemly at best and underhanded and illegal at worst.”
Ferch said Monday she was disappointed that her letter was obtained by the media. She said that her resignation was over the process, not on whether Johnson deserved to be terminated, because she wasn’t presented all the facts to make a fair decision.
“My goal through this is that there can be healing for the Spokane theater community because there are people hurt on both sides,” she said.
Wooley said he could not comment on Ferch’s letter.