Chief Executive Sues His Charity’s Board Members
By Lisa Chiu
When the Heifer Foundation
hired Domingo Barrios as its
chief executive in July 2010, it
praised him for his leadership
skills and his passion for helping others, which made him the
“ideal fit” to lead the foundation.
One year later, Mr. Barrios
is out of a job and is suing four
board members of the foundation following a messy dispute
that he says began when he
A messy dispute
the executive asked
conflicts of interest.
raised questions about a possible conflict of interest among
And while neither side is
talking much about a relationship that soured quickly, clues
are apparent from court documents. In the lawsuit he filed
in June, Mr. Barrios said the
board members broke the foundation’s contract with him by
suspending him and he is seeking $5-million in damages.
The 20-year-old Heifer Foun-
dation was created by the board
of directors of Heifer Interna-
tional, a global antihunger non-
profit group, to raise money and
build an endowment for the
charity. The two groups share
a close relationship: The chair
and vice chair of each organiza-
tion serve as board members for
the other group.
Fired From Foundation
In a statement, the Heifer
Foundation said last week that
it, too, has “established policies
in place to address potential
conflicts of interest” but that it
would not discuss the lawsuit,
which it said it had not yet re-
ceived. Last month, the organi-
zation announced that Mr. Bar-
rios is “no longer with the foun-
dation” and that his position
will be temporarily filled by Ar-
dyth Neill, the foundation’s chief
The charity and its
fund-raising arm say
they have policies
in place to prevent
conflicts of interest.
lawsuit to include wrongful termination.”
Nonprofit-law experts say it’s
hard to tell from the outside
whether a conflict of interest
between the foundation and the
charity is a valid concern.
Domingo Barrios says he
was wrongly fired as head
of the Heifer Foundation.
“Whether there was a conflict of interest depends on all
the facts and circumstances, including the type of transaction
between the organizations, the
impact of one board’s decision
on the other organization, and
the personal interests of the
common directors,” said Gene
Takagi, a lawyer who specializes in advising nonprofits.
In the meantime, Mr. Barrios
is seeking a new job at a foundation or charity and is hoping
for a resolution to the lawsuit,
his lawyer said.
“He was terminated for doing
what he thought was the best
interest of the foundation,” Mr.
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