SECU chief expected to leave firm this week Board asked Griffin to resign a month ago

April 01, 1993|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer Staff Writer Holly Selby contributed to this article.

The president of the State Employees Credit Union of Maryland is expected to leave the company this week, one month after the credit union's annual meeting at which the board of directors asked him to resign, according to officials representing the company.

The resignation of William M. Griffin also comes a month after SECU lost a racial discrimination case filed against it and was required to reinstate a fired teller and provide her with back pay.

Several people close to the company denied that the ruling by an administrative law judge, which was reported in The Sun a day before the annual meeting on Feb. 25, was the reason for Mr. Griffin's departure. But they said the case, and the way Mr. Griffin handled it, reflected the type of performance and communication problems that led to the board's decision in February to seek his removal.

"Bill will be leaving," said Joseph Pokempner, labor relations counsel to SECU. "Both sides are still discussing the final arrangements" of a settlement agreement, he said.

Mr. Griffin, who was hired as president of the state's largest credit union in 1987, said yesterday that he was "pursuing available options."

The board chose Robert A. Smith, SECU's vice president of finance, to replace Mr. Griffin as president. Mr. Smith has indicated he would serve only for about two years while the directors conduct a search for a permanent president, one board member said yesterday.

Mr. Smith declined to discuss the reasons for the change in leadership. "Mr. Griffin is no longer here, and I'm the president," he said.

Mr. Griffin's relations with the board began to deteriorate about two years ago, according to two board members who spoke on condition of anonymity yesterday. They said the board increasingly became frustrated with Mr. Griffin's lack of communication with the board.

"The parting of the ways was a long time building, and it was based on overall performance and relations with the board," said one director. The discrimination suit, by former teller Patricia Mack, "was not even a trigger. [But] it's symptomatic of [Mr. Griffin's] failure to communicate."

Towson-based SECU has $640 million in assets, $596 million in ** deposits and 150,000 members as of its June 30, 1992, report to federal regulators. Its members are primarily current or former state employees and their families.

Mr. Griffin, who is 50, joined the company in 1987. Then-Gov. Harry Hughes had named him director of the Maryland Division of Savings and Loan Associations, a year after the state's 1985 thrift crisis erupted. Mr. Griffin received favorable reviews for the work he did there under difficult circumstances.

But soon after he joined SECU, employee morale began to deteriorate as Mr. Griffin imposed a disciplined management style, according to past press accounts.

Minority employees complained about perceived insensitivity from top management, a charge that was upheld in this year's Feb. 19 ruling in the Patricia Mack case.

The credit union has said it has not decided whether to appeal the case, which was filed on Ms. Mack's behalf by the Maryland Commission on Human Relations.

The case arose from the decision by SECU managers, including Mr. Griffin, to fire Ms. Mack, who is black, after more than $2,000 was lost from the Baltimore branch where she worked, allegedly because she failed to follow money-handling procedures, SECU claimed in hearings before the judge.

But several other white employees who acted in the same way on other occasions received only warnings, according to the ruling by administrative law judge Melanie A. Vaughn.

"I conclude, as a matter of law, that the SECU engaged in unlawful employment discrimination . . . by terminating Patricia Mack's employment because of race," Ms. Vaughn wrote.

The ruling also detailed the consistent violations of cash-handling policies at the Baltimore branch because of what the judge said was understaffing.

One director said the board was frustrated with Mr. Griffin's inability to create and implement a new strategic planning system and to advance a "total quality" program. A consultant was hired a year ago to help out, but was terminated after he couldn't get along with Mr. Griffin and the board, this director said.

Finally, in January, the board's organizational committee reviewed both its evaluation of Mr. Griffin's performance and his own self-evaluation. The differences between the two evaluations convinced most of the board members that Mr. Griffin should go, several credit union officials said.

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