Fabricant, NPA sued by former CFO

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStockPhoto
Image: iStockPhoto

Related tags: Pleading

The Natural Products Association has said it will "vigorously defend" itself and is "confident [it] will prevail" in a lawsuit filed by former CFO Brent Weickert against the organization and its executive director Dr Daniel Fabricant, PhD. The suit alleges Fabricant created a hostile work environment and that Weickert was improperly dismissed for trying to bring this to the attention of the organization’s Board of Directors.

Weickert was dismissed from his post on Oct. 15, 2015 after more than 18 years at the organization. On Dec. 7, 2015 Weickert filed suit in state court in California against Fabricant and NPA, alleging that Fabricant had created a hostile work environment at NPA and had misused the organization’s funds. The suit claims that Fabricant engaged in “internally prohibited, unethical and often illegal behavior as CEO.” 

NPA issued the following statement, attributed to president Roxanne Green:

"We are aware of the suit against the Natural Products Association and its CEO/Executive Director, Dr Daniel Fabricant, by a former employee. We will vigorously defend the case and are confident we will prevail. We are well aware of this litigation. We have the utmost confidence in Dr Fabricant and his ability to continue leading the organization which he has helped to expand, modernize, and strengthen the natural products industry.”

Allegations

One facet of the allegations revolves around Weickert’s role as CFO. The suit claims Fabricant used NPA’s credit card to charge visits to strip clubs, and spending the organization’s funds on bar tabs and bills at “expensive restaurants” ​in the company of another high level male employee.

Weickert’s suit also claims that Fabricant had created a hostile work environment in Washington, DC, and this caused Weickert emotional distress because, even though he worked from an office in California, he was aware of the behavior and the climate in the DC office and was unable to get the attention of NPA board members. Weickert claims he sent a letter to Green detailing Fabricant’s behavior in early May 2015 and was disciplined and marginalized within the organization as a result.

NPA’s lawyers have filed a motion to dismiss the suit, claiming that Weickert’s allegations of emotional distress in particular are baseless in that Weickert worked in California and the allegations pertain to the climate in the Washington office. 

As matters stand, the suit is scheduled for a case management hearing in early April with a trial date, if no mediation is agreed to or no settlement is reached, following in late 2016.

Wrong plaintiff?

A legal expert contacted by NutraIngredients-USA, Prof Aîda Alaka of the Washburn University Law School in Topeka, KS, said that the case is potentially grave for NPA.  But Alaka, who specializes in employment law, questioned how the complaint was crafted, and said that Weickert’s retaliation claim, that is that he was unfairly dismissed as a result of a good-faith effort to do his job, is the strongest and most applicable portion of the filing.

“These allegations are potentially very serious, if any of them might be true,”​ Alaka said. “But as I tell my students, just being unpleasant is not enough of a basis for a suit. These are serious allegations, but as none of these happened directly to the plaintiff, he’s not really the right one to bring the suit on these claims.”

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