Former Sonsini Employees Describe 'Toxic' Work Environment
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It would only take one look and Kimberly Wilson's family would tell her, "you need to quit that job."
Wilson was hired as a staff member for the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter in September and quit a few months later because of what she says was a poor work environment.
"It was constant fighting. It was constant backstabbing ... It was taking a huge toll on all of us," Wilson said on Thursday.
Wilson recounts a story that doesn't stray much from other employees who resigned around the same time. The former Sonsini staff members describe a "toxic" work environment.
"It is devastating. It is about people and not the animals. It went from being micromanaged to hostile to dangerous to work there," Wilson said.
Particularly, Wilson said Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Board President Krista Wroldson-Miller and Treasurer Judith Trumble had caused great stress, both physical and mental, on the employees. As tensions mounted between those two board members and staff, the three other board members voted Wroldson-Miller and Trumble off.
But, shortly after, Wroldson-Miller and Trumble received a court order placing them back in charge. That case is set to play out in Westfield District Court with the pair arguing that the meeting and vote were illegal.
Adding to the issues at the shelter, the city pulled its contract from the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter and is seeking to take control of the Downing Industrial Park location.
Particularly, tensions in that court case are cited between Wroldson-Miller and then Shelter Manager Lori Robertson, which eventually led to Robertson being fired late last year and escorted off the property. Wilson said that was the last straw, as she feels Wroldson-Miller and Trumble had micromanaged the shelter too much.
"They were being destructive and intimidating," Wilson said.
But, Wilson isn't the only employee to have left because of complaints about the organization's leadership. Accounts from a number of former employees tell similar tales.
"We will not continue on as staff if Krista and Judith are on the board as this seems to be where the majority of the conflict lies. There is no working with them or getting them to change their minds. They do not consider our opinions or have the decency to sit down with us and talk about new policies before they are instituted," reads an August resignation letter from former Assistant Manager Emily Chasse.
"I am speaking for all the staff when I say that we love the animal aspect of our jobs. But several members on the board have made this a place we do not want to be a part of anymore."
Chasse resigned at the same time as Shelter Manager Danielle Lapointe. Lapointe's resignation letter reads that she had been volunteering at the shelter since the age of 10 and had seen several managers resign or be fired.
Lapointe's email reads that she had almost resigned a few years ago because "the bullying of Tobie our previous manager was too much for me to handle, I could not watch the absolute abuse that she was put through any longer."
But she decided to stay on as manager hoping things would change but, "so when after six months Krista suddenly started stopping in every 3 seconds, calling non-stop, and making all the decisions herself, Emily and I were hurt and confused, and we slowly began watching the domino effect started just as it had with Tobie."
"Two years ago when I submitted my resignation I made it clear that I was unhappy with the shelter and that the board's constant need to be involved in everything was creating a toxic work environment and not something I would tolerate, I was promised it would no longer be an issue but that was so far from the truth," Lapointe wrote.
Chasse responded to that email by resigning and citing an unhealthy work environment.
Chasse's letter says staff was forced to work with a dangerous dog and Wroldson-Miller had ignored the staff's concern. Chasse said she made multiple efforts to express her concern over the handling of the dog, its presence at the shelter, and it being sent back out into the public but it was never addressed.
She raised concerns about policies regarding unlicensed dogs and the shelter's financial management systems. The resignation letter alleges that there was "no accountability" for the handling of money and that she felt uncomfortable with the process.
It continues to claim that the manager's opinions were not being considered by Wroldson-Miller.
"As managers, Danielle and I have to run every minuscule thing by Krista," Chasse wrote.
After the two left in late summer, Wilson was hired with Robertson to work the shelter. Wilson said it was basically a brand-new staff and that they were provided little training up front. They reached out to other organizations for help, which gave them insight and training.
The staff started to get into a groove, bond and take initiative in their jobs, Wilson said, and they proposed changes to operations.
"There was so much love for these animals. There was so much we did, we wanted to do," Wilson said.
But Wilson said tensions kept escalating. She said anything Robertson would ask her staff to do, Wroldson-Miller would tell them to do the opposite. She said the workers wanted to buy a whiteboard and Wroldson-Miller needed it to go through a board meeting. She said was a time when a dog was set to be adopted, but at the last minute, Wroldson-Miller halted it.
She recalled an argument at the shelter that led to a door being broken. She said when staff unanimously disagreed with allowing kittens to go to an event, Wroldson-Miller proceeded anyway.
Eventually, Wilson sent in her resignation letter, too.
"I will not work where door handles are broken in anger, tears are a daily occurrence and professional ideas and thoughts are mocked. I will not subject myself to police escorts and no trespass orders as a common occurrence. I will not open my Facebook to see my own job posted prior to any conversations regarding my employment," Wilson wrote.
Wilson wrote that internal issues at the shelter had taken a physical and mental toll on her as a seizure disorder she had in the past had now reappeared, with a trigger being stress.
"Due to the current daily stress, conflict and unprofessional of the shelter, I am putting my employment on hold. While my love for the animals and the opportunity to improve their quality of life is immense, I can no longer justify the toll it has taken on my health and life. I simply do not feel that my current contributions are making a difference," Wilson said.
Wilson too had written emails expressing concern prior to her resignation about the shelter's management.
"I am here to help animals, plain and simple. I am not here to waste my time on nonsensical drama and rudeness, to be mistreated, scoffed at, underpaid, harassed, or antagonized," Wilson wrote. "Our staff was a tight-knit group of dedicated, capable employees. We worked extremely well together and trusted one another implicitly. This is continually being tested and undermined by two members of the board."
Tags: animal shelter, lawsuit,
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