A former acting chief financial officer of the University of the District of Columbia filed suit in U.S. District Court yesterday against top officials at UDC and other city officials, contending they removed her from her job because she had exposed corruption and mismanagement in school operations.
Sherrilyn Silver's suit, which seeks more than $10 million, alleges that her First Amendment rights of free speech were violated and that school and D.C. officials had waged a "mean-spirited, relentless campaign of retaliation." The suit names UDC President Julius F. Nimmons Jr., the UDC Board of Trustees, acting UDC Provost Beverly Anderson, former acting D.C. Chief Financial Officer Earl C. Cabbell and the D.C. government.
Last year, Silver uncovered a number of problems at the school: Scores of people had been hired without authorization from the finance department; several UDC credit cards were used for personal purchases by employees who did not pay the bills; and money was mishandled in two departments, resulting in teachers not being paid regularly.
Last August, Nimmons acknowledged some of the problems and said he was dealing with them.
He also complained that Silver's failure to provide him with complete financial information hampered his ability to make important decisions and said he was angered when she called in the D.C. inspector general to investigate.
As a result of Silver's findings, new procedures for handling petty cash and other money were implemented, a former UDC employee was convicted of theft of $69,000 in public funds and three employees were fired, according to Silver's attorney, Debra Katz, and other sources.
Silver started at UDC as comptroller in 1997 and soon became acting chief financial officer and vice president for finance and administration for several months. UDC's chief financial officers actually work for the city's top finance chief but are supposed to work closely with the UDC president.
Silver and Nimmons had a tense relationship, and Silver was moved last summer from UDC to what the lawsuit called a "dead-end" job in the office of the D.C. school systems chief financial office.
"Essentially, each time she raised concerns, she got increasingly marginalized and was retaliated against, until he [Nimmons] said, 'You are not a team player, and you are out of here,' " Katz said.
Silver was on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Nimmons, who sits on the board of trustees, said he did not know the lawsuit had been filed and could not comment.
Anderson was on leave and unavailable for comment. Cabbell, who is now executive vice president for corporate services at D.C. General Hospital, did not return phone calls.