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      28 / 19

      Four lawsuits for Women's Center

      Like many other non-profits, the Marquette/Alger Women's Center has recently had to deal with financial difficulties, and now two current and two former employees claim Executive Director Merrilee Keller and her board are part of the problem.

      Melissa Arbelius, Laura Travis, Liana Loonsfoot, and Susan Nyman all claim state grants provided to the center were not being spent the way they were intended. When they reported the problems to the Michigan Domestic Violence Board, the employees claim they were threatened by the Marquette/Alger Women's Center.

      They've now filed lawsuits claiming the center violated Michigan's Whistleblower's Protection Act.

      "The viability of the agency is in jeopardy," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Nancy Finch. "That is why my clients brought these lawsuits."

      The Whistleblower's Protection Act provides protection to employees who report legal violations within the workplace, but Arbelius and Nyman suspect they may have been let go because they spoke out against their employer.

      The attorney for the Women's Center, Suzanne Larsen, says that's absolutely untrue. She says the cuts were made for financial reasons and are nothing personal.

      "The board of directors and the executive director have been committed to making cuts that are necessary in order to maintain the viability of the Women's Center," said Larsen, "but they still provide as many direct services to the victims as possible."

      The Women's Center Board and Executive Director say they will continue to provide their usual services as they deal with the lawsuits.

      As for the plaintiffs, they say that they are passionate about the center, and a lawsuit was a last resort.

      "My clients took great efforts to prevent this from becomming four lawsuits," Finch said. "They made their complaints and their concerns and offered their advice on numerous occasions. It was only after these efforts became futile and not taken seriously that it was necessary to file the lawsuits."