Two fired employees sue Athens non-profit

Updated: Oct. 25, 2016 at 1:28 PM CDT
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ATHENS, AL (WAFF) - Two ex-employees of an Athens non-profit say they were wrongfully terminated.

They claim their firing came right around the time they started to question the financial dealings of the non-profit.

Dana Hickman & Robbin Hines are now suing over claims of retaliation.

"I do believe I was fired because I was getting close to something that would bring transparency to this organization," said Hickman.

The organization is The Spirit of Athens, a non-profit focused on economic development and promoting tourism through community events like Athens annual grease festival.

Dana Hickman says she was hired as the Executive Director and brought on Robin Hines as an assistant.

However, six months later they were both fired and says they were given no explanation.
Spelled out in the lawsuit, Hickman believes the termination came after she started questioning accounting practices, specifically $60,000 listed as "other expenses."

Hickman said she asked the Spirit of Athens bookkeeper to clarify the expenses, but she was refused access to the books.

Both women are being represented by Attorney, Eric Artrip.

"They weren't allowed access to checking accounts that would lead them to those answers themselves," said Artrip.
When Hickman reported what she calls financial irregularities to Spirit of Athens President, Doug Gates, she claims nothing was done so she refused to sign off on the non-profits 2015 taxes.

Their attorney advised them to seek the help of an outside auditor, but two days later, they were fired. "The two things certainly appear to be related," added Artrip.

"We can get to the bottom of what's really going on, that was my whole purpose by going to ask an auditor to help us with this so we could get the answers that I needed and that the people should need," said Hickman.

Spirit of Athens receives funds from the city, county and federal dollars from the TVA.

Spirit of Athens President, Doug Gates speak on camera pending litigation but issued a lengthy statement.

He goes on to say her assistant was terminated over funding concerns for the position.

Gates also offered a breakdown of the other expenses, $60,000 on things like advertising, telephone charges, conference fees, farmer's market expenses and hosting the Grease festival.

Hickman said she never received any of that information or else she would have been able to do her job.

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