Fast Food Franchise Giant Accused of Misuse of Relief Funds

(CN) — Accused of pocketing a million dollars from a coronavirus relief loan, fast food giant Starboard Group’s chief executive maintains he has “clear and complete” financial records to refute the claims.

The allegations were lodged by Sandi Adler in a lawsuit she filed on the heels of her firing from Starboard Group Management, where she had been working as a human resource specialist.

The lawsuit claims Starboard — which operates more than 100 Wendy’s restaurants — fired Adler in retaliation for speaking up against workplace sexual harassment and CEO Andrew Levy’s handling of a Paycheck Protection Program loan. 

Levy denied Adler’s claims in a statement provided to Courthouse News Thursday afternoon.

“Our decision to terminate Ms. Adler’s employment was not made in haste or without reason,” Levy said. “Instead, it was a decision that was made with the utmost respect for both her reputation and her financial situation. Given that, it is unfortunate that she has chosen to make such a wide array of false and hurtful accusations toward this company and its employees.”

A law school graduate and longtime human-resource executive, Adler alleges that Levy diverted roughly a million dollars of Starboard’s PPP loan to “personally finance a house he had just purchased in Montana.”

“Levy directed Adler to place certain personal employees in Montana as corporate employees. The effect of this, in view of the PPP funding, was to defraud the United States and the Small Business Administration,” Adler says.

The lawsuit further alleges that in spite of receiving the multimillion-dollar government loan, Starboard Group ordered Adler to tell its vendors and landlords that it was in financial trouble.

The Paycheck Protection Program was set up by the U.S. government to help businesses weather the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak. Permitted uses of PPP loans include covering employee salaries, paying utility bills and making rent and mortgage-interest payments

Levy retorted Thursday that Starboard has accounting documents on hand to disprove Adler’s narrative. He maintains that Starboard’s “financial records are clear and complete and will refute any claim of misuse” of the loan money.

Levy added that Starboard is launching an internal investigation into Adler’s claims of sexual harassment.

Adler is represented by Weston-based employment law attorney Ware Cornell.

When reached by phone, Cornell said his client led Starboard’s human resource department and “was in a position to know” the inner financial workings of the company.

The complaint lists counts for violations of the Florida Private Whistleblower Act. Also included is an assault count based on claims that Adler was put in “immediate fear of an unwelcome touch” by a company manager, who supposedly wanted to sleep with her. 

Adler said the boss would tell her about his “sexual conquests” and “pressed [her] to go on a vacation … with him to Europe.”

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