A former Salvation Army employee has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the organization, claiming she was fired in retaliation for informing county health officials that the group’s medical clinic in Oxnard had been operating for years without a license.

In August 2005, Robin Campos, business administrator for the Oxnard branch of the Salvation Army, discovered the clinic, which opened in 1989, had never been properly licensed by the Ventura County Public Health Department. In hopes of correcting the problem, Campos contacted the VCPHD. Days later, the clinic closed and she, along with a dozen other employees, was laid off. Administrators informed the staff that the layoff was not intended to be permanent; once the clinic completed the licensing process, they said, their jobs would be reinstated. As the clinic reopened in December, everyone was brought back to work — except Campos.

“It’s hard to explain the emotional turmoil this has caused,” says Campos, 44. “Basically, I feel I have been embarrassed and shamed. I was going to run for city council this year, but I felt there was no way I could have my name on billboards around the city.”

Campos started working for the Salvation Army six years ago, but her history with the organization goes back much further. As a child, a picture of her selling candy to Al Arbinger, then mayor of Oxnard, for a Salvation Army fundraiser was published in the Star Free Press. She has been involved with the group one way or another ever since. When she was hired in 2000, she was given a broad range of responsibilities, overseeing everything from the dental clinic to the transitional living center, “administering all aspects of the business,” she says.

In 2002, after another administrator transferred out of state, Campos added one more job to her list of duties: licensing the medical center. At the time, Campos says, the organization believed only the volunteer doctors and physicians were legally obligated to have a license and that licensing the clinic itself was simply a way of opening up larger grant opportunities. It wasn’t until 2004, after meeting with a licensing consultant, that she learned what the clinic had been doing was against the law. When she brought it to the attention of the Salvation Army management, Campos was “basically told nobody should know about this,” according to her attorney, Greg Ramirez.

Later, a meeting was called at the Oxnard branch, where it was announced the clinic would be closing temporarily. Campos was optimistic. “I thought, ‘Someone is finally paying attention and doing what needs to be done,” she says. Campos says she was asked to speak with the VCPHD, to see what the possibility was of them providing an umbrella for the clinic while continuing through the process of obtaining a license and possibly keeping it open. The department said it was willing to consider the suggestion.

After reporting back, however, Campos alleges she overheard John and Linnea Desplanacke, who had recently been hired as captains of the Oxnard Corps, telling the supervisors at the Salvation Army Divisional Headquarters that the county was not willing to help. Later that same day, the staff received letters confirming the temporary layoff — only, the one Campos received indicated hers would be permanent.

“I expected to get my job back. I still think I’m getting my job back,” she says. “I was just in shock. I could not believe it.”

Scott Lidman, an attorney for the Salvation Army and for the Desplanckes, declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but says his clients “sincerely believe they have done nothing wrong” and will “vigorously defend themselves in this case.”

Campos believes part of the reason for her firing stems from her strained relationship with the Desplanckes, who were hired only a month before the layoff occurred. E-mails between divisional headquarters and the Desplanckes during that time accuse Campos of “stirring up the staff” and exhibiting a “pattern of passive aggressive behavior and uncooperativeness.” In one exchange, dated July 13, 2005, Diane Bell, director of human resources for the Salvation Army Southern California Division, writes George Baker, the divisional secretary of business, telling him they had devised a “plan of action” to deal with Campos, which includes “revising her position description which will minimize her wide sphere of influence and control and turn over the authority to [the Desplanckes].”

But David Buchta, a member of the local Salvation Army Advisory Board, says he found the Desplanckes, who have since been transferred, to be the ones “uncooperative” and “difficult” to work with.

Ramirez claims there are other reasons for Campos’ firing.

“The Salvation Army is like the [United States] Army, in that you take orders and you don’t ask questions,” Ramirez says. “If you ask questions, you’re out. The problem with Robin is she asked questions.”