Bisch Files Suit, Whistleblower Retaliation Complaint, against Yolo Food Bank

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – It has been a few months since the surprising firing of Michael Bisch, who had served as executive director of the Yolo Food Bank.  Bisch’s legal counsel, Sanjiv N. Singh, sent out a release late on Thursday indicating that they have filed a suit in Yolo County against Yolo Food Bank, and against certain individual members of the YFB Board of Directors.

Bisch, former Executive Director of YFB, who is credited with turning YFB around and making it one of the most successful nonprofits in the region, alleges various causes of action including wrongful termination against public policy, whistleblower retaliation, and defamation.

The lawsuit alleges that YFB and certain YFB directors improperly retaliated against and terminated Bisch when Bisch began disclosing and reporting on possible government agency noncompliance with California’s Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Law (SB 1383) legislation with the stated purpose of increasing food security for Californians while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On March 18, a letter from Yolo County Board of Supervisors signed by Chair Angel Barajas and Vice Chair Oscar Villegas to the Board of Directors requested that the Board of Directors “act immediately to protect local food recovery organizations—a vital part of the County food recovery network—against actions that compromise their ability to provide food to those in need.”

They allege that the leadership of the organization was acting to deter “small food pantries, churches, and other organizations from accepting local government funding and retaliating against those that accept funding by curtailing their access to donated food.”

Bisch, according to the letter, believed that the approach by the county to SB 1383 was “legally deficient” and “advocated for local governments to ‘fully fund a surplus edible food recovery program countywide” by providing a greater local contribution ($2 million or more annually) to Yolo Food Bank.’”

The county concluded, “We would be remiss if we did not express our concern that the actions attributed to Yolo Food Bank’s leadership, if true, create a serious question about their commitment to local food security and the best interests of our communities.”

Bisch told the Vanguard in an email, “I believe I was fired by the Yolo Food Bank board for voicing my opinion to government representatives about SB 1383 noncompliance and filing formal complaints against the YFB board and against the County of Yolo and cities of Davis, Winters, West Sacramento and Woodland.”

In his lawsuit, Bisch now alleges “that YFB and certain YFB board members, in response to Bisch simply performing his job—including advancing public policy by sharing subject matter expert opinions at hearings, meetings, in official reports, and in private to government officials—retaliated against Plaintiff Bisch in bad faith, ultimately terminating Plaintiff Bisch for no valid reason.”

According to Singh, “The termination was so untimely and egregious, it is alleged, that other YFB employees resigned in protest and issued Letters of No Confidence to the YFB board.”

During the course of these allegedly egregious retaliatory campaigns culminating in Bisch’s termination after four years of dedicated service, “it is further alleged that YFB board members advanced defamatory remarks about Plaintiff Bisch to discredit him and other YFB staff.”

Most troublingly, the lawsuit “contains specific allegations suggesting that the retaliation against and ultimate termination of Bisch was driven by allegedly improper conflicts of interest on the YFB board, and furthermore by the YFB board allegedly succumbing to improper pressure by local government officials.”

Sanjiv Singh, lead counsel, commented, “If true, these allegations raise important questions surrounding public trust and accountability in the nonprofit space and the relationship of nonprofits to local governments.”

Bisch added, “I was fired for doing what an executive director of a nonprofit is supposed to do. If we see misstatements of fact by public officials that jeopardize our mission or harm the vulnerable populations we serve, we have a duty to correct and challenge such misstatements. I lost my job for doing my duty.”

The lawsuit has been filed in Yolo County—Michael Bisch v. Yolo Food Bank.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 Comments

    1. Richard_McCann

      SB 1383 mandates that local governments come up with programs to reduce the amount of food waste that is going into the general solid waste stream and ending up in landfills. This law is one of the reasons why Davis handed out the food waste buckets to residents. Organic waste that ends up in landfills emits methane as it degrades and methane is a more powerful GHG than CO2. In the US about 40% of food production ends up being wasted, although the majority of that is actually at farms (so this statistic is a bit misleading). Food that is shipped and then discarded can be diverted to other uses (e.g., animal feed, food banks) or to organic waste processing to either be aerobically digested or used to create methane gas to be burned as fuel.

  1. Ron Oertel

    Bisch told the Vanguard in an email, “I believe I was fired by the Yolo Food Bank board for voicing my opinion to government representatives about SB 1383 noncompliance and filing formal complaints against the YFB board and against the County of Yolo and cities of Davis, Winters, West Sacramento and Woodland.”

    Not seeing where or how all of those entities are (allegedly) “not complying” with SB 1383 – which is supposedly what caused you to “complain”, apparently/ultimately leading to your dismissal.

    Would Mr. Bisch care to explain?  Or, is the purpose of all of this part of a continuing public relations campaign, in which we’re only hearing from one side?

    Are you trying to get your job back, via the force of a court?

    What exactly is your goal, here?  What are you trying to “expose” in regard to the YFB board, the county of Yolo, and the cities of Davis, Winters, West Sacramento and Woodland?

    And since you’ve filed a lawsuit, why not just let the results of that speak for themselves, rather than sending emails to the Vanguard regarding incomplete (and as of now – unsubstantiated) allegations?

    And what of the allegations apparently made against you by the board of supervisors (in their March 18th letter, as described above)?

    Which (from their point of view), appears to be what caused you to be terminated?

    1. Ron Oertel

      Here is what the board of supervisors alleges, apparently in regard to Mr. Bisch’s leadership:

      On March 18, a letter from Yolo County Board of Supervisors signed by Chair Angel Barajas and Vice Chair Oscar Villegas to the Board of Directors requested that the Board of Directors “act immediately to protect local food recovery organizations—a vital part of the County food recovery network—against actions that compromise their ability to provide food to those in need.”

      They allege that the leadership of the organization was acting to deter “small food pantries, churches, and other organizations from accepting local government funding and retaliating against those that accept funding by curtailing their access to donated food.”

      And if I’m understanding it correctly, Mr. Bisch requested $2 million dollars (or more) annually for the Yolo Food Bank, in response. (For the purpose of implementing this requirement more effectively?) 

      Is he claiming that not providing this money is at the heart of the county’s alleged “violation”? (That’s what I’m gathering, from this article.)

      I don’t know – does it cost more than $2 million to ensure that other organizations have access to donated food? How, exactly does this work in regard to Yolo Food Bank (and the other organizations involved)?

    2. Ron Oertel

      They allege that the leadership of the organization was acting to deter “small food pantries, churches, and other organizations from accepting local government funding and retaliating against those that accept funding by curtailing their access to donated food.”

      Also, how did this alleged situation come to the attention of the board of supervisors in the first place?  (I can only assume that one or more of these organizations probably initiated a complaint regarding the leadership of Yolo Food Bank, which the board of supervisors responded to.)

      If it actually reaches trial (which seems doubtful in this type of case), such questions would likely be answered. But from what I’ve seen, lawsuits like this often result in a settlement – to avoid the costs of a trial.

      As such, we’ll probably never know what actually happened, here (in regard to all of the allegations).

       

  2. Richard_McCann

    This article confirms two points that I’ve made in earlier posts. First the YFB had aggressively moved to control the surplus food stream that many smaller local non profits had relied on previously and those groups often were not happy with the situation. Apparently YFB later offered to return control to the smaller groups but they had already dismantled their direct food management systems. Second Bisch’s proposal to address SB 1383 was not the only solution to the issue. Asserting that the county was in noncompliance because they didn’t accept his plan is at least premature because the county has time to plan for alternative solutions.

  3. David Greenwald

    To clarify one point: “Bisch, according to the letter, believed that the approach by the county to SB 1383 was “legally deficient” and “advocated for local governments to ‘fully fund a surplus edible food recovery program countywide” by providing a greater local contribution ($2 million or more annually) to Yolo Food Bank.’”

    These quotes are from the County’s letter, not from Michael Bisch.  He is not the one who brought up this $2 million figure, the county letter did.

    1. Ron Oertel

      He is not the one who brought up this $2 million figure, the county letter did.

      Well, exactly how does he believe that the county was “legally deficient” regarding SB 1383? Given that this is (apparently) at the heart of the entire issue, shouldn’t that information be shared in this ongoing series of articles?

      Or, are we simply going to continue hearing “bad supervisors”, “bad food bank board”, etc.?

      Has any outside agency made a determination regarding this apparent complaint?

      Are we to believe that the county and the food bank’s own board acted against Bisch for no valid reason whatsoever?

      Is that the claim, here?

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