Orange County Bar Sued by Ex-Executive Director : Associations: She alleges that her resignation was forced by a clash over her authority to fire a subordinate. The group 'greatly disputes' suit.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The former executive director of the Orange County Bar Assn. sued the organization Friday, alleging that she was wrongfully forced to resign.

Patricia C. Ruhlman, 60, contends in her lawsuit that her resignation was the result of a dispute over her authority to fire a subordinate.

According to the suit, which was filed in Orange County Superior Court, Ruhlman tried to fire the bar's assistant executive director, who had "embarked on a concerted effort to create difficulties in the day-to-day operations of the bar."

Ruhlman, who resigned Aug. 28 after eight months on the job, declined to comment on her lawsuit.

Andrew J. Guilford, president of the county bar, said the association "greatly disputes this lawsuit."

He said he was "surprised" when Ruhlman resigned and is now "very surprised that she would sue for wrongful discharge."

In the lawsuit, Ruhlman said that she had been hired as the bar's executive director in January over the assistant executive director, Trudy Levandofske.

After starting the job, Ruhlman noticed that Levandofske was uncooperative and unwilling to work with her, according to the lawsuit.

Ruhlman further alleges that her own performance was being undermined and sabotaged by Levandofske.

Levandofske, who was named as a co-defendant in the suit, could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Believing that the bar's bylaws expressly gave her the authority to fire a subordinate and that she had "just cause," Ruhlman tried to fire Levandofske, the lawsuit states.

Members of the bar's executive committee, however, violated the bylaws and thwarted her attempt to fire Levandofske, Ruhlman said in the lawsuit.

Ruhlman alleges that the bar's president and president-elect "removed her authority and forced her to resign."

Guilford said that Ruhlman's authority had not been stripped and that any significant firing has to be approved through the executive committee.

He also called the lawsuit "regrettable" and said that "up until the day she resigned, I tried to talk her into staying."

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