(WORT)–A non-profit organization providing access to social services in Madison for over a century has come under fire for terminating one of its employees, after she attempted to stand up for her clients’ civil rights.
On May 20th, Family Service Madison fired Alex Wills, a bilingual coordinator who had insisted that a local health-care provider make professional interpretation services available for her Spanish-speaking clients, as required under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act.
The provider refused, and sent a complaint to Wills’ boss and Family Service Madison CEO Russell King.
Wills believes the complaint letter was the sole grounds for her termination, and she decided to take the matter to Madison’s Workers’ Rights Center.
Patrick Hickey, Executive Director of the Workers’ Rights Center, says Wills’ case is concerning not only from a workers’ rights perspective, but also from a civil rights perspective.
“That an agency like Family Service Madison which receives city, county, and United Way money would not stand up for their clients’ civil rights is a little bit shocking,” Hickey says.
“If they’re going to be given this money to carry out this work, they really need to do the job… not just for those individuals that a particular provider wants to provide services for, but for everyone that’s legally able to attain those services,” he says.
After a week of unsuccessful attempts at reaching out to Family Service to resolve the issue, Hickey says the Workers’ Rights Center began asking the broader community for support.
On Friday morning June 17th, Hickey accompanied Wills to Family Service’s offices to deliver a petition with some 50 signatures from members of Dane County’s Latino Support Network, calling for Wills’ reinstatement, for back pay, and for an explicit statement of commitment to defending their clients’ rights.
Hickey says they were surprised to find the doors locked and the office closed during what are normal business hours.
“They knew we were coming,” Hickey says. “We ended up just slipping the petition under the door.”
Wills says the last thing she wants to do is tarnish Family Service’s reputation. All she wants is to get back to doing the work she loves.
“If anything I want to go back in there and do everything I can to continue serving the Latino community and make sure that we are adjusting how we…face these issues,” Wills Says.
Russell King, CEO of Family Service Madison, did not return multiple phone calls requesting comment Monday. Hickey says Family Service board members had planned to meet over the weekend to craft a response to the incident. But as of airtime Monday, that response had not yet been issued.