A former high-level employee at the racial justice nonprofit Brown Hope has filed a lawsuit against the organization and its CEO, Cameron Whitten.
Brondalyn Coleman, the chief operating officer for Brown Hope, filed the suit on July 17 in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
In her lawsuit, Coleman alleges Whitten directed her to fire an employee for refusing to meditate; demanded she and other employees and board members use the psychoactive drug ayahuasca; and told her to sign tax documents she believed “concealed potentially unlawful activity.”
“Plaintiff was concerned that the tax report camouflaged unlawful actions, potentially including the falsification of business records and/or misappropriation of state or federal funds, and that signing or filing the tax documents might constitute illegal acts potentially including the falsification of business records and/or tax fraud,” the lawsuit says.
Many of the allegations Coleman makes provide more detail to a document presented to Brown Hope’s board that previously surfaced last December.
One allegation that’s new: Coleman, who is Black, says Whitten wanted to fire an employee for being “too white.”
“In October 2022, Mr. Whitten questioned a management employee of a multiethnic/multiracial background about her ethnicity and race,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Whitten then complained to plaintiff that this employee was ‘too white to be in leadership’ and stated to plaintiff that he intended to fire the employee for being ‘too white.’”
Coleman, who joined Brown Hope in September 2021 and earned a salary of $93,000, says when she pushed back against Whitten, who also demanded she carry an “angelite stone crystal with her at all times for religious or spiritual purposes,” her relationship with the CEO deteriorated and he fired her in January 2023. Coleman is seeking $5 million in damages.
Whitten did not respond directly to the allegations in the lawsuit but instead issued a statement: “Brown Hope has a deep love and commitment to all the people of Portland, and that definitely includes our current and former employees. We are currently beginning a mediation and restorative justice process for anyone who has concerns, and are hopeful for a positive outcome that guarantees healing and happiness for all.”
Whitten also provided a statement from Brown Hope’s board chair, who said an outside investigation conducted by a law firm found allegations against current staff “legally unsubstantiated.”
An Oregon Department of Justice investigation into Brown Hope that began last December continues.