Bells and Whistleblowers: The Ethics Commission Majors in Ironic Studies

At times, the efficacy of the city's Ethics Commission is akin to a strongly worded resolution used to combat a building-sized reptile rampaging through downtown. A recent move may give solace to future reptilian invaders.

Last week, Brett Andrews was tapped by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee for a vacancy on the Ethics Commission; his candidacy will be decided by the full board on June 4. This spawned an interesting situation: The Ethics Commission oversees whistleblower retaliation cases. And Andrews' nonprofit, Positive Resource Center, is embroiled in an ongoing lawsuit brought about by a self-proclaimed whistleblower alleging retaliation.

Jane Gelfand is the former managing legal director at PRC, a nonprofit helping HIV-positive clients obtain and keep disability benefits. She filed suit against PRC in 2011 alleging wrongful termination and multiple labor code violations.

At issue was PRC's entry into a contract with the Social Services Administration regarding the "Ticket to Work" program for disabled clients hoping to enter the workforce. Gelfand's suit alleges enrollees in this program "would mostly likely no longer be eligible to receive the Social Security benefits that the attorneys ... helped them obtain. In essence, the goals of the Ticket to Work program were diametrically opposed to the goals" of PRC.

She claims none of the center's attorneys were informed of this contract — which resulted in disclosure of "privileged and confidential attorney-client information" to the Social Security Administration.

After months of increasingly wrought back-and-forths with executive director Andrews, the suit claims, Gelfand found herself "constructively discharged." Around half a dozen fellow attorneys jumped ship too, according to a former staffer.

Several messages for Gelfand were not returned. Andrews sent an e-mail stating the parties have reached a "settlement in principle" in which his group needn't admit to any wrongdoing. He referred SF Weekly to prior legal filings in which PRC accused Gelfand of "bullying" her colleagues and attempting to poach staff for her own nonprofit venture.

J.T. Swanson, a former PRC attorney who left alongside Gelfand, scoffed at those claims. When asked how he felt about his former boss Andrews handling whistleblower retaliation cases, he laughs. "It's ironic. I'll tell ya that."

 
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