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Ex-exec accuses JA of withholding retirement funds

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Junior Achievement of Central Indiana fired an executive after he allegedly took compensation he hadn't earned. But Victor George, the former executive vice president who was ousted, is trying to turn the tables on the not-for-profit.

George filed suit in federal court on Feb. 23, alleging Junior Achievement failed to remit money to his retirement and health-savings accounts, a violation of the Employment Retirement Security Act, or ERISA. He also claims JA fired him for complaining about the violation to the U.S. Department of Labor.

In addition, George claims JA violated his employement contract by cutting his pay 12 percent and by terminating him retroactively. The termination letter he received Jan. 11 said he was fired effective Dec. 31, according to the lawsuit, which did not include the letter as an exhibit. The letter came from an unnamed "outside legal counsel," George's lawsuit said.

The letter accuses George of "unethical and illegal" acts, including "theft, conversion and deception," in withdrawing $25,000 from his deferred-compensation account last December, the suit said.

George is claiming that not only was he entitled to the money because the account had vested on Dec. 1, but that JA defamed his reputation by accusing him of criminal conduct and sharing that statement with the organization's 32-member board of directors.

"He was a good steward of financial support from the Indianapolis community," George's attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, said. "He regrets that his exemplary career came to an abrupt end due to Junior Achievement's unlawful acts."

Heather Wilson of Frost Brown Todd LLC, the law firm representing JA in the case, could not be reached this week. JA officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In a response to the lawsuit filed March 15, JA admitted that it "mistakenly" failed to remit money to George's retirement and health-savings accounts, but says the issue was later rectified. JA denies that George was fired over his ERISA complaint or the defamation claim.

George, 49, had worked at JA affiliates in Columbus, Ohio, and Tampa, Fla., before coming to Indianapolis in 2006. He signed a four-year employment agreement starting July 1, 2006, with a base salary of $118,500. The contract provided for annual raises of 3 percent, or 5 percent if he met goals set by the CEO. The agreement also provided for the deferred-compensation plan, which was to vest on June 30, 2010.

CEO Jeff Miller, who retired at the end of 2008, amended that agreement on Dec. 1, 2008, and moved up the vesting date by seven months, to Dec. 1, 2009. George included Miller's letter as an exhibit with his lawsuit. In the letter, Miller said he changed the employment agreement because he was retiring six months earlier than expected.

In its response, JA said Miller did not have authority to amend George's employment contract without permission from the board of directors or its executive committee. JA also denied that the letter is part of George's personnel file.

It's unclear why current CEO Jennifer Burk and the board of directors would have been in the dark about a change to George's compensation. Burk became interim CEO Jan. 1, 2009, but according to JA's response, "Miller was still performing some services at that time."

George told JA about the potential ERISA violation, which he claims affected other employees as well, after Burk was appointed to the permanent CEO post on July 1. He notified the Labor Department in September and sent an e-mail to board Chairman Mark Shaffer in November.

JA remitted the money after some months, DeLaney said, but she said she doesn't consider the situation resolved because JA didn't reimburse George for the lost investment opportunity. The lawsuit does not mention how much money was involved in the potential ERISA violation, and DeLaney would not provide that detail.

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