MI Girl Scouts take national branch to federal court

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s Girl Scout versus Girl Scout in federal court as the Kalamazoo-based local organization has filed a suit against the national headquarters.

It’s not thin mints that are at stake, but hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Heart of Michigan Girl Scouts say the national organization is not just trying to coerce more than $700,000 from the local branch, it is acting against the very law of the Girl Scouts itself: honesty and fairness, respect for others and the wise use of resources.

The Heart of Michigan Girls Scouts began more than 100 years ago and now includes some 24,000 girls in 34 counties including the cities of Benton Harbor, Saginaw, Ann Arbor and Lansing.

In 2008, the Girl Scouts underwent restructuring nationwide and in Michigan where  administrative functions were consolidated in order to save money and keep the Girl Scouts solvent.

Not long after, the national organization announced changes in its pension plan that the lawsuit claims was done without the approval of the local branches.

That change, according to the suit, meant that a large number of people not previously covered by the plan were included in a way that benefited the national headquarters in New York City but resulted large costs increases for the locals.

“We really want to pay for our own employees, but we don’t necessarily want to pay for those non-Girl Scout Heart of Michigan employees,” said Jan Barker, CEO Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan. “Our board and the leadership team at Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan made the decision to take legal action because we weren’t able to get answers to our questions for numerous years.”

The Michigan organization refused to go along with the new plan and stopped paying in until June of 2015.

According to the claim filed by Girl Scouts USA, the headquarters tried to negotiate and meet with the Kalamazoo contingent, but the Michigan branch cancelled its meeting when it learned that National President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan would not be coming.

Now, the national branch is seeking more than $710,000 as well as $37,000 per month going forward and attorney fees.

“We think that this is something we need to do for the health of Girl Scouts across the nation is just call the question,” Barker said

Barker says the money is in escrow, but they need answers they have been trying to get for nine years before they feel comfortable passing it on to New York.

The local branch says it never agreed to this and the national organization has no right to force arbitration.

“It’s definitely isn’t going to effect in any way, shape or from how we work with girls or work with volunteers. We’ll still continue to provide a safe place for girls to build courage confidence and character,” Barker said.

This lawsuit was filed last Wednesday and Girl Scouts USA has several weeks to respond.

In a written statement to 24 Hour News 8, the New York office would only say they have a responsibility to their members to seek the payment.

No matter what the outcome, nobody here will earn their badge for getting along.

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