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The former executive director of a prominent southeastern San Diego nonprofit is suing for wrongful termination based on his sexual orientation.

In the lawsuit filed Jan. 25, Dwayne Crenshaw alleges the board of directors for the Coalition of Neighborhood Councils fired him for being gay, harassed him and failed to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

The lawsuit represents the latest twist in a series of heated allegations that have been simmering for more than a year.

Crenshaw, a former City Council candidate and local political figure, became the executive director of the Coalition of Neighborhood Councils in 2005. The nonprofit promotes development and offers community services for 23 neighborhood groups in southeastern San Diego.

Crenshaw’s tenure at the nonprofit ended abruptly in December when its board of directors unanimously voted for his termination. In a letter to Crenshaw, the board simply said it was “moving in a new direction.”

Board members have repeatedly declined to discuss their decision further. Crenshaw also hasn’t returned messages seeking comment.

In August, a group of eight community members alleged to the board of directors and other neighborhood organizations involved with the nonprofit that Crenshaw had sexually harassed staff and youth involved in the nonprofit’s programs. The group’s six page letter outlined the allegations but provided little evidence to support them.

At the same time, the group criticized the board of directors for not taking its complaints seriously. The board sent an e-mail on Aug. 21 to people involved with the nonprofit, calling the complaints “misinformation, half truths, unfounded allegations and outright lies in an attempt to destroy the CNC and its leadership” to forward personal agendas.

Apart from sexual harassment, the complaints cited field trips lacking supervision, security gaps at a community center, biased hiring practices and improper relationships between Crenshaw and students. The allegations of improper relationships centered on Crenshaw allowing youths involved in the nonprofit’s programs to live at his home.

Crenshaw’s attorney, Joshua Gruenberg, said the allegations were fabricated to grow community support for his termination. None of the allegations have resulted in criminal prosecution.

“Those allegations wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t gay,” Gruenberg said. “He would be seen as a hero … for housing those kids.”

At some point the board dropped its support for Crenshaw.

Through October and November, Crenshaw regularly received harassing e-mail messages from members of the board of the directors and community members, according to the lawsuit. On Dec. 4, the board voted unanimously for Crenshaw’s termination.

After his termination, Barbara Howard, the nonprofit’s chairwoman, requested a no trespassing order to keep Crenshaw away from its Euclid Avenue office. When Crenshaw returned to the office the next day, Howard called police and Crenshaw was arrested. Howard had managed Crenshaw’s 2002 unsuccessful campaign for City Council.

On Jan. 4, a judge placed three temporary restraining orders against Crenshaw at the request of Howard and two other board members. Howard told the court Crenshaw’s “overall tone was hostile, defiant and threatening” during his departure.

Two weeks ago, Crenshaw filed his lawsuit and demanded a jury handle it so that it receives more publicity, his attorney said.

“Dwayne is intent on righting this wrong and clearing his name, and the only way he will be able to do that is through a jury trial,” Gruenberg said.

Apart from wrongful termination, Crenshaw is also suing for discrimination, harassment, defamation, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, failure to pay wages upon termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Gruenberg declined to say how much money Crenshaw is seeking.

“The value of the case will be discovered over the course of the litigation,” he said.

The defendants in the case, the nonprofit, Howard and six other individuals, have 30 days to respond from the date when they were served the lawsuit notice.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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