This article was updated April 1 to include Board President Sarah Souza’s comment.
A few days after the chief legal counsel for La Raza Community Resource Center offered to resign with four weeks’ notice, he was fired — effective immediately.
Carl Larsen Santos, who was the legal director of La Raza for nearly eight years and had recently become a vocal spokesperson for employees opposed to his boss Gabriel Medina’s leadership, was fired after he suggested he wished to resign.
Executive Director Gabriel Medina told Santos he was fired because “’my continued presence was not good for the organization.’ Something very vague,” Santo said.
Sensing tension following his advocacy against Medina in recent weeks, Santos offered to resign March 24, after four weeks, to prepare his clients for the transition. Instead, Medina handed Santos a termination letter at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 28, effective immediately. The letter, reviewed by Mission Local, did not offer a reason.
“Santos resigned, and worked with the executive director on a transition plan that worked for everyone,” said Krista Mitzel, who is representing La Raza CRC. “The organization wishes him all the best, and works positively toward a transition that will benefit the clients, as well as Santos.”
“At every turn, our volunteer Board of Directors has put our community’s needs first. That is why we serve. We heard the La Raza CRC staff, and brought in a team to investigate all concerns and ensure proper management,” Board President Sarah Souza said in an emailed statement. “On the recommendations of our outside workplace and financial experts and with a focus on this vital organization’s future, we stand in support of our executive director and his leadership.” She said the legal team would sufficiently attend to clients’ needs, and that turnover has occurred in other companies and industries over the past two years.
Medina could not be reached, and if he does, this article will be updated.
Staff like Santos have been protesting La Raza’s choice of Medina as executive director for weeks now, alleging that he mistreated staff and mishandled finances. One staffer resigned. However, the dialogue escalated to the public realm during a Board of Supervisors Committee meeting March 23.
Along with other organizations, La Raza has been tapped to distribute pandemic rent relief funds to the community. However, the internal tensions between Medina and his staff caused the city to skip over them as grantees in the second round, and diverted $8 million La Raza would have received toward other nonprofits.
Both tenants and employees aired out both sides of the drama in public comment, causing Supervisor Hillary Ronen to scold the organization. La Raza supporters appealed the funding decision, stating that an independent investigation completed that day had cleared Medina of the staff allegations. Mitzel said the majority of employees reported no concerns with Medina, and “of those who did express concerns, most of their feedback was hearsay,” Mitzel said.
But Santos stated that the independent investigation was biased, especially since it failed to interview staffers who had recently resigned.
A day after Santos spoke at the Board of Supervisors Committee meeting — during which Medina was present — he realized his employment with La Raza probably had no future. “I knew I wasn’t welcome at the organization. I figured he was not happy with me, and I wanted to make sure that the program and the clients did not suffer,” Santos said.
He approached Medina and asked to resign four weeks from March 24, so he could finish up his remaining tasks and alert his clients. According to Santos, Medina thanked him for his professionalism and said he would consult his lawyers.
The next day, March 25, Medina gave Santos an agreement offering Santos the ability to remain for two weeks, and a severance of $1,600, contingent on Santos’s signing a non-disclosure, non-disparagement agreement that also released the company from any liability, Santos said. That contract allowed Santos seven days to respond. Mitzel could not respond to questions about the termination package, citing the confidentiality of the agreement.
Dissatisfied with the deal and severance pay, Santos returned Monday and, at 4 p.m., asked Medina for what he felt was a fair severance: Two weeks’ pay for every year at the nonprofit he felt he helped grow, and that liability be released from both parties. An hour and a half later, Medina rejected the offer and said Santos was fired, effective immediately. He had to clear his desk that night.
“I’m not going to lie, it felt like a punch to the gut. I warned him this could have catastrophic consequences for the community and for our clients,” Santos said. It “was setting up my successor for failure, because I wouldn’t be able to train that person, and even set up my files so they could find what they needed.”
Santos, troubled that he couldn’t “triage” high-need clients and contact them before his departure, picked off eight years’ worth of thank-you notes and artwork clients had given him from his desk. When he started under the former executive director, Melba Maldonado, only one paralegal served the immigration legal side he oversees. Now, that team encompasses three attorneys like himself, and three paralegals.
Mitzel said the organization is continuing to move forward by actively hiring, listening to employees’ needs, and continuing to serve the community in “collaboration and a positive work environment.”
Santos said that he will take a month before searching for new work, and expects that other employees will continue to organize despite his departure; just Tuesday, another protest occurred outside of La Raza at noon. Santos wasn’t there, he said, “because I was up all night the day before, clearing out my desk.”