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Newsletter > September 2009 > "AKA NATIONAL PRESIDENT SUED BY MEMBERS"
AKA NATIONAL PRESIDENT SUED BY MEMBERS
Dan McCarthy, Manley Burke
This summer, eight members of Alpha Kappa Alpha sued their international president, Barbara McKinzie, and some current and former members of the organization’s board of directors in Washington D.C. Superior Court. The suit seeks the removal of Ms. McKinzie as the president and alleges that she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of AKA’s money on herself. The plaintiffs are also seeking the repayment of money they claim was improperly spent on personal items.
The complaint specifically alleges that Ms. McKinzie used her AKA credit card to buy herself designer clothes, lingerie and jewelry and then used the credit card “points” on the card to get a 46-inch high definition television and gym equipment for her personal use. She also allegedly purchased a wax figure of her herself for several hundred thousand dollars for display at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Board allegedly improperly approved a four-year pension stipend that would pay Ms. McKinzie $4,000 per month, purchased a $1,000,000 life insurance policy for her and started an endowment fund to be run and managed by Ms. McKinzie’s management firm.
Ms. McKinzie has denied any wrongdoing, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, “Change never comes easy. The malicious allegations leveled against AKA by former leaders are based on mischaracterizations and fabrications not befitting our ideals of sisterhood, ethics and service.”
Since filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs now allege that AKA made nearly $500,000 in retirement payments to Ms. McKinzie after learning of the possibility of a lawsuit. The plaintiffs allege that AKA wrote five checks, totaling $499,699, to Ms. McKinzie with “Retirement” written in the description area, after AKA became aware that a lawsuit was imminent.
This case is currently pending in the Superior Court of Washington D.C. We will keep you updated as the case proceeds. However, this case provides a strong reminder of the duties that directors owe to their organizations.
All directors have a duty of loyalty to their organization. This means that directors must act in good faith and in the best interests of the organization. Directors cannot act in their best interests or in the best interests of a third party. It is critical for directors to avoid conflicts of interest involving issues that could benefit them individually. When a conflict arises, the conflicted director should recuse from both the discussion and vote on the issue, and leave the discussion and vote to the disinterested directors.
Directors also have a duty of care. This duty means that directors must be informed of the facts and issues facing the organization and they must act in good faith, with the care that an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would reasonably believe appropriate under similar circumstances. The duty of care requires directors to stay engaged and take an active role in the direction of the organization. Taking a passive role and letting other directors or officers call all the shots is not acceptable.
AKA is the oldest predominantly African American Greek-lettered sorority. This case has driven a divide between sisters across the country. Hopefully the case does not cause irreparable harm to a great organization.