Fired Exec Sues Actors Guild Pension Body

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A former official claims in Superior Court that the chief executive of the Screen Actors Guild pension and health plans underreported millions of dollars of embezzlement, pocketed some of the plans’ insurance premiums, and paid his brother-in-law as a “phantom employee.”
     Craig Simmons sued the Screen Actors Guild – Producers Pension and Health Plans, alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy and the Labor Code. The Plans, and Does 1-100 are the only named defendants.
     Simmons says he is a former executive director of human resources for SAG plans. He claims that his former boss, the plans’ CEO Bruce Dow, asked him to lie to a U.S. Department of Labor official investigating Dow. When he refused, he was suspended and fired, Simmons says in the complaint.
     “Plaintiff was employed by the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension and Health Plans. He was wrongfully terminated from his employment on March 25, 2011, shortly after he reported illegal misconduct and improper behavior of Bruce Dow, Chief Executive Officer of the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension and Health Plans, to a SAG-PPHP Board Trustee. Defendants have also defamed plaintiff by accusing him of making false statements regarding his discovery of Dow’s illegal misconduct and of committing misconduct during his employment,” according to the complaint.
     The complaint states: “In January of 2011, plaintiff informed two members of the SAG-PPHP Board of Trustees, Leah French and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, that Dow was underreporting the losses of IT embezzlement and fraud incidents by millions of dollars. This was a situation where a former SAG-PPHP employee had embezzled millions of dollars from the entity. At about this time, plaintiff began to have concerns about Dow’s leadership of the SAG-PPHP.
     “By February of 2011, plaintiff had suspicions that Dow was committing criminal and unethical misconduct. Plaintiff was concerned about the following:
     “a. That Dow intentionally underreported the amount of money embezzled by a former employee;
     “b. That Dow was sending SAG-PPHP insurance business to his wife and pocketing a portion of the money on the insurance premiums;
     “c. That Dow’s brother-in-law was a ‘phantom employee’ of the SAG-PPHP, receiving $48,000 and pension benefits while doing no work for SAG-PPHP; and,
     “d. That Dow was using insider investment information about where SAG-PPHP was investing money to benefit the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, by exploiting his leadership role in both organizations.
     “In February of 2011, Dow asked plaintiff to assist him regarding a Department of Labor investigation into his conduct as CEO of SAG-PPHP. The investigation concerned Dow’s wife’s (Ms. Dow) insurance business and its questionable connection to SAG-PPHP as well as Dow’s brother-in-law having a ‘phantom job’ with the SAG-PPHP. The DOL investigator was conducting interviews with various SAG-PPHP employees. Dow asked plaintiff to lie to the DOL investigator by affirming that Dow’s brother-in-law was an employee of SAG-PPHP. Plaintiff refused. Moreover, Dow asked plaintiff not to tell the board about his interview. Once again, plaintiff refused. After plaintiff’s refusal, Dow ended up arranging for another plan executive, Amanda Bernard, to be interviewed by the DOL investigator.
     “On March 9, 2011, Dow invited plaintiff to a previously unscheduled ‘budget meeting.’ Upon his arrival to meet with Dow, the Chief Operating Officer, Christopher Dowdell (‘Dowdell’) and outside legal counsel, Marc Allaria (‘Allaria’) were also present. As of March 9, 2011, plaintiff was actively investigating Dowdell for misconduct. Dow lied about wanting to discuss budget issues with plaintiff. During this meeting, Dow attacked plaintiff’s credibility and integrity by making false accusations of misconduct against him. Without reviewing any documents, plaintiff verbally responded to all of Dow’s false accusations. At this meeting, plaintiff was suspended and escorted off the premises.”
     Simmons says Dow sent him a “suspension letter” two days later, which “made additional false accusations against him,” and gave him 2 days to respond.
     Simmons’ complaint does not elucidate the nature of the alleged false accusations. He says Dow fired him in late March 2011.
     “Prior to March 9, 2011, plaintiff was never disciplined or counseled for any reason. He never received any complaints from any of his supervisors regarding his work performance,” the complaint states.
     The SAG plans, which control roughly $2.5 billion in assets for its members, investigated the claims last year but concluded that they were largely false, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
     But the plans board did state that a former employee may have misappropriated $2 million, according to The Wrap, an online magazine that covers Hollywood.
     Simmons also came under scrutiny for allegedly directing money from the fund to his husband’s [sic] marketing company, Fortress Communications, according to an October 2011 report in the Los Angeles Times.
     But The Wrap article, cited above, reported that Simmons called those allegations a “false smokescreen.”
     Simmons is represented by Gregory Smith of Beverly Hills.
     He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful termination.

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