Multiple allegations of a difficult work environment have been made by former employees and others against Community Action Partnership of Greater St. Joseph and its CEO.
CAPSTJOE is a social welfare organization with an annual budget of several million dollars, responsible for helping many people living in poverty.
Some of the troublesome complaints shared with News-Press NOW date back a few years, and others relate to recent allegations against CAPSTJOE and executive director Whitney Lanning.
Lanning, who has not commented on this story, is currently running for mayor of St. Joseph.
Antonette DuPree of MAB Law KC, LLC represents two former CAP employees seeking to sue the agency. Although she declined interview requests for herself and on behalf of her clients, she sent a statement to News-Press NOW regarding their cases.
“Normally I would choose not to comment, but my clients believe that under the current circumstances, the people of St. Joseph have a right to know who they are about to elect to the city’s highest office.”
DuPree said that while she could not comment further on the specific claims of the two ex-employees she works with, she is aware of other prior allegations involving CAP and Lanning that bear similarities to the cases she is currently in. involved. She pointed out that these previous cases have not been “pursued to the end and therefore remain only allegations at this stage”.
The oldest and most recent allegations include race-based discrimination and wrongful dismissal.
In response to allegations involving the agency and its executive, CAPSTJOE’s board of directors said in a statement to News-Press NOW that the organization “does not discuss or disclose confidential personal matters regarding past or current employees.” .
However, the board statement continues, “The Greater St. Joseph Community Action Partnership takes allegations of discrimination and a toxic work environment seriously. The organization’s commitment is evident not only in the work the organization does in the community, but in the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts for employees.
One of the previous charges against CAP was filed by Sherry Webb in 2019.
Webb worked in customer service and then as an admissions specialist for the Low-Income Housing and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at CAP. She received an internal award in April 2018 for her customer service. But a few months later, she was released.
In late 2021, Webb said he received a message from a former CAP employee who had resigned from an HR position.
“I knew I was wrongfully fired anyway, but she told me they knew two months before that they wanted to get rid of me and she was so sorry,” Webb said. “The quote that got me fired was, ‘We have to do all the legwork.’ This is a comment I made to one of my colleagues.
Webb won the right to sue after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Jefferson City. However, she said she did not take this action because her life was complicated by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I didn’t go there with full rights to sue, I wasn’t done with that,” Webb said. “COVID and everything happened and there was a lot going on.”
Lanning’s leadership style has also come under scrutiny outside of CAPSTJOE. A St. Joseph police officer has resigned from a collaborative effort to work with homeless members of the community citing issues with the management of a CAP-operated emergency shelter located at 629 S. Eighth St., which closed due to staffing issues in June 2021.
The officer retired from Continuum of Care, a local collaborative organization that helps address homelessness, on June 18.
News-Press NOW made an open records request to the City of St. Joseph and received the officer’s resignation letter to Continuum. the News-Press does not name the officer involved and he declined to comment on the resignation.
“The lack of personnel is due to the fact that the CAP does not authorize the hiring of new personnel. Being understaffed is self-imposed by Mrs. Lanning. The former manager had been asking for more staff for months and his requests were ignored,” the resignation letter read. “Ms. Lanning made no effort, if any, to hire staff. The second ‘resignation’ was actually a dismissal by Ms. Lanning of the emergency shelter manager, who covered open shifts in addition to his normal day-to-day operational duties.
“The manager and 4 members of staff had worked together to keep the shelter open. They had received little training and support from Ms Lanning,” the letter continues. “Closing the emergency shelter, changing the hours and limiting help for the homeless has always been the end goal. The former director had opposed these changes and defended the residents. The closure of the emergency shelter creates a huge hardship for the homeless…
“I think the desire to help the homeless is not important to Ms. Lanning, and all efforts are bogus and politically motivated. I don’t want to be a part of anything Ms. Lanning is associated with and the withdrawal of the Continuum,” the letter concludes.
CAP’s board statement underscores the agency’s commitment to serving the community.
“Since the agency’s inception in 1965, CAP has been and continues to be committed to meeting the needs of low-income and marginalized populations throughout our four-county service area,” says the communicated. “We have and continue to work actively to promote the importance of diversity and inclusion among our employees and in the communities we serve.”