The former deputy director of Rhode Island Housing sued the agency on Wednesday, claiming she was wrongfully fired over a probe she says uncovered financial irregularities involving federal funds at the Urban League of Rhode Island.
Gayle Corrigan filed the suit in U.S. District Court, alleging breach of contract and a violation of a law protecting whistleblowers, among other things. The complaint also names the agency's director, Richard Godfrey.
"No one should lose their job for raising legitimate questions about how taxpayer money is being spent, especially when the organization they work for has a mandate to operate with transparency and fairness," Corrigan said in a statement.
She said Rhode Island Housing "fell down on the job and tried to sweep its failings and those of its partner organization under the rug."
Corrigan is seeking double back pay, other damages and to be reinstated.
The Urban League was drawing down federal housing grant funds from Rhode Island Housing to operate the Safe Haven homeless shelter in Pawtucket. Corrigan began investigating the Urban League's requests for money after hearing of alleged financial irregularities, she has said.
The shelter had numerous problems, including employees who went unpaid for months and no heat. In her suit, Corrigan says she raised concerns about the Urban League's use of federal funds for the shelter, as well as a "suspicious" payroll report, to Godfrey. She reported that the Urban League's failure to pay employees violated state and federal laws and that her agency "had a duty to report it," the suit says.
Corrigan had recommended law enforcement be contacted and that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development be made aware of the findings.
Rhode Island Housing released a statement Wednesday evening that dismissed the lawsuit as baseless. There is no connection between Corrigan's firing and Rhode Island Housing's involvement with the Safe Haven homeless shelter program, the agency said.
"While we ordinarily do not comment on personnel matters or pending litigation, Rhode Island Housing is making this limited comment in order to address these erroneous allegations," according to the statement. "We believe that the suit is without merit."
Urban League President and CEO Dennis Langley has said previously no funds were ever misappropriated and that his organization didn't meet payroll because of a lack of money. He did not immediately return a message left Wednesday.