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Ex-CEO Says CoastHills Tied His Bonus to Weight Loss, Then Fired Him When He Complained,

Jeff York Click to view larger
Jeff York (Courtesy photo)

The CoastHills Credit Union Board of Directors has made the decision to fire former CEO Jeff York two weeks after he was placed on administrative leave.

York, who was terminated March 16, said the firing was retaliation for a complaint he made about Board member Kate Griffith's proposal to tie his annual bonus to weight loss.

Prior to his termination, York served as chief executive officer of CoastHills since 2004.

CoastHills is a billion-dollar Central Coast-based credit union headquartered in Vandenberg Village, with 11 locations in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties and one in Thousand Oaks.

“It is hard to believe that any intelligent business person could think that such a proposal would be appropriate. Can you imagine if I was a woman and she was a man,” York said in prepared remarks.

York said in a telephone interview Tuesday that CoastHills is run by "some misguided board members.”

“This is a volunteer board. The rest of us are paid professionals,” he said, referring to himself and the other credit union executive staff. “They're going to uproot most of the leadership team for something they could have handled professionally.”

In response to York's statement, Board Chair Bill Anders said in a statement released via email Monday that the former CEO's remarks were “very unfortunate and unprofessional.”

Anders said in the statement that the CoastHills board “was informed by regulators of a complaint relating to alleged inappropriate management behavior at CoastHills” by York, which he said prompted the board to conduct an investigation that ended in York's firing.

Anders refused to discuss the complaint other than to say “it in no way involved members, the credit union's finances, stability or operations.”

York said he was fired without cause despite CoastHills spending months investigating him; he said the board's stated cause for termination was determined after the fact.

“They spent our members' money to try to backfill these allegations,” York said.

York isn't the only former executive to accuse the board of acting in bad faith. On March 8, eight days before York's firing, the board also voted to terminate Senior Vice President Lisa Harlow, who served as CoastHills' chief human resources officer.

CoastHills interim CEO Dal Widick refused to say whether Harlow's firing was with or without cause, though the CoastHills statement said Harlow was removed following an “organizational review.”

“Based on what CoastHills is saying, it was with cause. I would disagree,” Harlow said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Harlow's attorney, Kristi Rothschild of Santa Barbara, confirmed York's account that he complained to human resources after his bonus was tied to weight loss, though there were other facets of the complaint that Rothschild and Harlow declined to discuss.

“And because (Harlow) investigated his complaint, she was then herself put under investigation,” Rothschild said.

Harlow disputed the board's statement that York's termination was linked to alleged inappropriate management behavior.

“There was no alleged inappropriate management behavior (complaint) against Mr. York until Mr. York made complaints against the board members,” Harlow said.

Harlow declined to say whether she intended to file a lawsuit against CoastHills; York said he plans to file a lawsuit but that the filing timeline is in his attorney's hands.

Besides York and Harlow, Executive Vice President David Upham also recently resigned from CoastHills.

Upham “left voluntarily,”​ Widick said.

Both Harlow and York bemoaned the state of CoastHills' leadership.

“We were doing our jobs, all of us. It's sad we're in the situation we're in now,” Harlow said.

“CoastHills is a great place. I used to love what it stood for,” York said.

[Click here for more stories from the San Luis Obispo Tribune.]

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