Thomas says nonprofit organization owes her nearly $130k

Article written by Rick Carroll of Aspen Times on October 6, 2021

The former executive director of the Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is taking the nonprofit organization to court on claims she is owed nearly $130,000 in compensation.

The lawsuit from Lesa Thomas, who was the camp’s executive director for nearly three years until September 2018, was filed in Pitkin County District Court on Sept. 15. The suit noted the nonprofit also was sent a written demand for the money and was given 14 days to make Thomas whole.

The nonprofit did not respond to the letter, and serving the lawsuit on the organization is the next step, according to labor and employment attorney David Lichtenstein, whose Denver-based firm filed the complaint.

“We did give them time to do the right thing,” Lichtenstein said Tuesday.

The nonprofit declined comment.

“We do not have anything to share at this time,” said Karen Immerso, Aspen Camp’s board treasurer, via an email message.

Thomas, who now lives in Texas, was the organization’s executive director from “approximately” Dec. 15, 2015, until Sept. 18, 2018, the complaint said. Her employment contract included room and board and an annual salary of $100,000, the suit said.

Yet during those three years at the helm, Thomas not once was compensated for her agreed-upon salary, the suit alleged. She was paid $71,833 in 2016, $46,250 in 2017, and $25,833 in 2018 when her employment ended in mid-September. Added up, $127,236 is due Thomas from her employer, and the suit said it will seek interest under the Colorado Wage Claim Act because of the deaf camp’s failure to respond to the notice demanding payment.

“In the event that Defendant fails to tender Ms. Thomas’s wages and compensation within 14 days of Ms. Thomas’s written demand, Ms. Thomas will be entitled to recover her unpaid wages and compensation plus a penalty of 125% of the first $7,500 of the unpaid amount and 50% of any additional amount,” the suit said.

The suit also made a claim for breach of contact.

Lichtenstein declined to answer questions concerning the nature of Thomas’s exit from the organization or why she continued to work though she was underpaid.

In an Aspen Times story published in March, Immerso acknowledged the organization was “saddled with debt” around the time Thomas, its last paid director, parted ways.

The organization, which has a 17-acre camp in Old Snowmass, took a two-year hiatus from its summer programming before returning last summer. The pandemic was part of the reason for the pause, as well as financial challenges.

Immerso thanked the community and volunteers for its support this year, in a letter published in The Aspen Times in August.

“The two July Family Camps served 19 adults, 15 children and nine families. Five volunteers at each camp worked hard to run outdoor activities, prepared and served meals, and brought back to life the hopes of the Camp’s 1967 founders and supporters,” the letter said.

Immerso also said the program is on the rebound.

“With the help of so many volunteers over the past two years, the camp facilities are in their best shape to accommodate groups again. While this is a soft relaunching of the camp mission, the board and its supportive community will continue to move forward with its evolving vision for offering educational experiences on its unique and beautiful campus.”

For the tax year ending Oct. 31, 2019, the Aspen Camp generated $75,141 in revenue — nearly two-thirds coming from grants — and expenses of $91,677, according to the nonprofit’s Form 990 tax returns, which are public record.

It emerged from the operational red for the in the tax year ending Oct. 31, 2020, with total revenue of $112,611 and $83,036 in expenses, according to tax records.

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