Suit protests firing over Scout cookie cash

August 07, 1996|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Laurel Haarer never guessed that Thin Mints would leave such a bad taste in her mouth.

The Ellicott City accountant helped her daughter sell Girl Scout cookies last fall, but says she was abruptly fired from her job after she failed to turn in her cookie money on time.

Now Haarer is fighting back, seeking a total of $200,000 in three civil suits against the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland; Ellin & Tucker, her accounting firm; and David M. Thomas, a parent who contacted her boss about the cookie money. Yesterday, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ordered Haarer's lawyer to more clearly specify the charges against Thomas.

What seems like a simple case of cookie money mismanagement has turned into personal disaster for Haarer, a single mother of two who has been unable to find another accounting job and has fallen behind in her car payments and rent. She now works part time as a grocery store cashier.

Last fall, Haarer and her daughter, Megan, sold $335 in Samoas, Chalet Creams, Do-Si-Dos and other Girl Scout cookies for Troop 645. They had collected $75 by the time the money was due.

The troop leader told her to wait until the Girl Scouts sent a bill for the $260, Haarer said. "Late notices" go out about two months after cookie money is due, and Haarer's had not been sent, a Girl Scouts spokeswoman said yesterday.

But six weeks after the money was due, Thomas, an Ellicott City lawyer, called and wrote a letter to Haarer's boss at the Baltimore-based Ellin & Tucker. He asked for the firm's help to collect the missing cookie money.

The Girl Scouts don't understand why Thomas led the charge against Haarer. He was in no way officially attached to the organization and had not been authorized to collect the money, according to Patricia Carr, Girl Scouts spokeswoman.

Haarer has never met Thomas and spoke to him only once, after he called her boss, she said. "I have no idea why he wrote the letter," she said.

Asked why his client demanded payment of the cookie money, one of Thomas' lawyers, Alan B. Noble, shrugged. "He was a concerned parent of a Girl Scout in the troop," he said. "We don't believe there's any merit to the case."

Believing Thomas to be the person in charge of taking the money, Haarer delivered a money order for the full amount to him the morning after he contacted her boss.

Even so, later that day her boss fired her, saying she could not be trusted, she said.

She was dumbfounded.

"I asked [the man who fired me], 'How can you base what kind of person I am on this letter?' " Haarer said, her face turning red as she remembered. "He never responded to me."

An attorney representing Ellin & Tucker denied the charges against his client but refused detailed comment on Haarer's suit.

Although Haarer says she had never been reprimanded about her job performance, court documents say that the firm had "other complaints" about her work before the cookie issue surfaced. Haarer worked for the firm about seven months, from July 1995 until early February.

Haarer's suits against the Girl Scouts and Thomas allege they interfered in her business relationship, slandered her and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. Ellin & Tucker is being sued on the latter charge only.

If the cases are not settled out of court, a jury will decide whether Haarer deserves financial compensation in the claim, which includes lost wages and career damage.

The court date is set for June.

"I have no more cookies at my house," Haarer said. "I'll never buy another box of Girl Scout cookies again."

Pub Date: 8/07/96

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