At least 14 of the 24 employes at the House of Ruth, a network of shelters for homeless and battered women in Washington, walked off their jobs yesterday to protest the firing of organization's executive director, Gwen SidBerry.
SidBerry and her secretary, Celestine Holley, were fired by the shelter's board of directors shortly after the two employes arrived for work at 459 Massachuetts Ave. NW, the nonprofit organization's headquarters.
The board of directors put Veronica Maz, the president and founder of the House of Ruth, in charge of day-to-day operations unitl next week, when Barbara Baker, a board member, will become executive director.
Maz said she recommended SidBerry's firing during an emergency board meeting Saturday because "she [SidBerry] was insubordinate and refused my orders as president." Maz said Holley was fired for the same reasons.
"We are only doing what is best for the shelter," Maz said. SidBerry and board president, Mary Sears, refused comment yesterday.
Disgruntled employes claimed Maz engineered the firing by giving SidBerry impossible orders. They said Maz had been "plotting her [own] return" since April when the board voted to "limit" Maz's activities at the shelter by removing her from day-to-day operations.
At the time, Maz was accused publicly of misusing the shelter's funds -- charges repeated today by the shelter's bookkeeper, Stuart Johnson, one of the disgruntled employes.
"there have been two audits clearing me," Maz told a reporter yesterday. "In fact, the audits show the shelter owes me money."
The employes claimed Maz threatened to fire them if they walked off their jobs in support of SidBerry. Maz said only SidBerry and Holley have been fired.
"This will not affect our shelters or service," Maz said. "This is just an inhouse problem."
"The House of Ruth is finished without Mrs. SidBerry running it," countered, a social worker at the shelter. "There weren't any professionals here until she took charge."
The employes were to decide late yesterday whether they would return to work. The House of Ruth, which is publicly and privately funded, operates a network of homes in the inner city for 80 to 100 destitute, abused and limited-income women.