A 60-year-old woman has filed an age discrimination complaint against a Madison-based group that advocates for senior citizens.
The Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups fired Mary Jorgensen on July 12, according to the complaint being investigated by the Madison Equal Opportunities Division.
The nonprofit coalition's executive director, Nino Amato, on Friday denied any bias and said that Jorgensen "was terminated for several poor work performance reviews."
"Any employee is free to file whatever they want, and we're confident that CWAG does not discriminate against seniors," said John Hendrick, a staff attorney for the coalition.
Documents submitted as part of the investigation show that Jorgensen and Amato clashed after he was hired in January, and that she'd received positive reviews in many of her nearly 20 years working for the group.
"While I worked under Amato," Jorgensen wrote in her complaint, "he harassed me in a number of different ways, including: giving me unreasonable deadlines different from other employees, asking me if I had a learning disability (which I do not) and making comments about my religion."
Amato denied treating her poorly and said he tried to improve her performance.
"If you talk to people who know me, I've always acted in the most professional manner," said Amato. He said his record of service on committees like the one that found a site for the city's Goodman Pool are proof of his ability to keep a cool head. Amato is a former utility executive who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1977 and has received several awards for civic contributions.
He was removed from the UW Board of Regents in 2004 for publicly scolding colleagues, and in 2006 the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group relieved him of his post as its president for being too confrontational after he criticized state energy policy, scorching state regulators and the governor by saying they were too cozy with utilities.
Amato said he removed himself from the decision to fire Jorgensen.
Coalition board president Mike Linton made the decision in consultation with other officials, Amato said.
"This wasn't an easy decision on the part of the chairman of the board," Amato said. "There was much sensitivity to her years of service."
Jorgensen said Friday that she wouldn't comment.
"I've got to be really careful," Jorgensen said.
Amato's predecessor as coalition director, Tom Frazier, sent the city investigator a letter supporting Jorgensen.
"It is ironic and unfortunate that an organization that supported state legislation to protect workers from age discrimination would terminate the employment of a 60 year old woman who dedicated 20 years of her career to furthering the mission of that organization," Frazier wrote.
The city investigator has been gathering information from both sides and eventually will determine if there is probable cause to justify a hearing, which could lead to dismissal of the complaint or an order that the employee receive back pay or be rehired, said Lucia Nunez, director of division.
Jorgensen's complaint states she was demoted and then fired because of her age, religion, a perceived disability and in retaliation for filing an internal grievance against Amato. She accuses Amato of targeting her and replacing her with a younger worker.
The coalition's response to Jorgensen's complaint says she made mistakes, missed deadlines and didn't follow instructions. It points to an incident in which she prepared conference packets using business cards with incomplete contact information that were marked "Do Not Use."
Jorgensen said Amato slammed her religious faith, Catholicism, when he referred to himself as a "recovering Catholic," knowing that she wore religious medals on her necklace and hung an angel on her office wall.