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Bandon health center sued for $1.5 million

Lawsuit alleging ‘coup’ follows resignation of three top executives
Rock formations at Bandon Beach in Southern Oregon. | LISA MCKELLY/PIXABAY
October 26, 2023

A former top executive of the Coast Community Health Center in Bandon has filed suit for $1.5 million in damages, alleging he faced discrimination and retaliation as part of a leadership “coup.”

Darron Barfield, the center’s former chief operating officer, resigned from the center on March 24 along with two other top officials, Chief Medical Officer Ann Kellogg and Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Kuehn, according to the suit. The filing portrays their former employer, a nonprofit federally qualified health center that serves low-income people, as a site of dysfunction, discrimination and cross-cutting complaints.

Melissa Cribbins, who is named in the suit and is listed on the center's website as its chief executive officer, said she and the center declined to comment on its allegations. She said she is no longer interim CEO.

Darron Barfield was hired on Nov. 18, 2022, according to the suit. It also said that after accepting the job over other opportunities, he learned that board members were planning a “coup” to remove then-CEO Linda Maxon, claiming they'd discovered financial irregularities.

However, Barfield’s suit questions the integrity of the investigation that led to Maxon’s departure and claims a board member involved in the effort exhibited sexist and other discriminatory behavior. The filing alleges that Barfield and Kuehn, fearing that the leadership void would endanger patients, sought to reopen an investigation to determine whether the allegations against Maxon were true.

“Barfield’s commitment to a fair process …  was seen as disloyalty to the new faction. This resulted in … continued escalation of a hostile work environment and more direct retaliation against Plaintiff. Defendants would go on to label the Plaintiff as a stereotypical ‘angry black man.’” 

One employee, promoted after the leadership change, hired her spouse and granted him a preferential schedule, the suit claims.

Since Barfield, Kellogg and Kuehn resigned, “the toxic work environment persisted after Plaintiff’s forced resignation. Employees of the company continue to fear retaliation based on the perception of loyalty to the Plaintiff and other departed executives,” the suit says.

Portland attorney William Macke filed the suit in Coos County Circuit Court.

You can reach Nick Budnick at [email protected] or at @NickBudnick on X.