The American Numismatic Association has responded to a lawsuit by former executive director Larry Shepherd and has filed a request to move the lawsuit from Illinois to Colorado, where the ANA is headquartered.
Shepherd was the ANA’s executive director from March 2008 through August 2011. His initial complaint was filed in an Illinois state circuit court on Aug. 14, 2012, and transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, on Jan. 2, 2013. An amended complaint was filed May 24.
The initial lawsuit named the ANA and its former legal counsel Ronald Sirna as defendants. The expanded amended complaint added current ANA President Thomas Hallenbeck, current ANA executive director Kimberly Kiick (who was ANA’s senior operations manager during the majority of Shepherd’s tenure with the ANA), former ANA director of marketing Jay Beeton and former ANA Board member J.P. Martin.
Shepherd claims that several members of the then-ANA Board of Governors protested his investigation into ANA museum thefts and terminated his employment in retaliation. He claims he was targeted by several ANA staff members who falsely accused him of discriminatory and harassing conduct and unsatisfactory work performance. At the core of Shepherds’ complaint is a 15-page memorandum drafted by Kiick and Beeton that was allegedly distributed at the 2011 ANA convention to ANA Board members and other individuals. Shepherd contends that these false accusations resulted in the termination of his employment on Aug. 20 at the 2011 World’s Fair of Money and damaged his professional reputation.
A difference of dates
While Shepherd has stated that he was terminated in August 2011 at the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money convention in Rosemont, Ill., the ANA contends that he was fired a month later. This date is important because it helps establish jurisdiction, or where the case can be heard. Shepherd is currently based in the Chicago area, while the majority of the defendants are in Colorado.
Many admissions, corrections and disputed facts in the ANA’s point-by-point response are of a minor nature: disputing Rosemont as being Chicago, various titles held by ANA officials and similar technical points.
The ANA further denied that it was on the verge of bankruptcy when Shepherd became executive director, but admitted that in the fall of 2008 it gave Shepherd a five-year contract. The ANA acknowledged that a memorandum was submitted to its then-legal counsel Sirna on or about Aug. 8, 2011, and that Kiick and Beeton played a role in the creation of this memo.
Other points addressed in the ANA’s response involve the ANA’s museum thefts, but the ANA denied that thefts were widespread prior to and during Shepherd’s tenure as executive director.
The ANA provided several affirmative defenses, stating that even if Shepherd established that certain statements were made, the statements were made without malice and since they were made between persons with a legitimate interest in the subject matter, his claim of defamation should be barred. In a second affirmative defense, the ANA claims that his defamation claim was based on statements that occurred prior to the limitations period and as such, should be barred under the applicable statute of limitations.
The ANA filed a motion to transfer venue with a supporting memorandum on July 8. In it, the ANA wrote that Shepherd’s only potentially relevant ties to Illinois were the Kiick/Beeton memorandum — created elsewhere — that was distributed during the 2011 ANA World’s Fair of Money and that Shepherd was allegedly discharged at an ANA Board meeting during the convention.
It adds, “even if these allegations were true — and they are not — any connection between Plaintiff’s claims and Illinois is paper thin.” The ANA requested that the court transfer the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, where the ANA and all defendants, except for Sirna, reside and “where the overwhelming majority of the facts giving rise to Plaintiff’s claims occurred or would have necessarily occurred if true.”
Transfers of venue may be granted by a court if the transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and the witnesses and will promote the interest of justice. The ANA contends that Shepherd was not actually terminated during the ANA Board meeting at the 2011 ANA show and the memorandum had been distributed prior to the convention. These two facts, if true, would make the connection to Illinois much more tenuous. The ANA cites a termination date of on or about Sept. 20, 2011, via correspondence written in Colorado and sent to Shepherd at his Colorado address, before concluding, “The State of Illinois played virtually no role with regard to any of Plaintiff’s claims.”
In a separate July 3 declaration, Sirna stated that he received the Kiick/Beeton memorandum on or about Aug. 9, 2011, prior to the World’s Fair of Money and that he received this in Michigan. On July 8, Sirna filed a separate motion to dismiss for improper venue or to transfer.
On July 9, the court issued an order on the defendants’ motion for extension of time, ordered responses due by July 29 and replies by Aug. 8, and set the end of fact discovery as Aug. 26. ■