WASHINGTON – A judge on Monday threw out a lawsuit by eight members of the nation’s oldest black sorority, who accused the group’s president of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper compensation and spending sorority money on a wax statue of herself and other questionable purposes.
In a 17-page opinion, D.C. Superior Court Judge Natalia M. Combs Greene said the plaintiffs failed to prove they were entitled to relief, in large part because their lawsuit against Chicago-based Alpha Kappa Alpha and its president, Barbara McKinzie, was the wrong kind of legal action. Combs Greene suggested they should have filed a shareholder derivative suit, which allows shareholders to sue on behalf of a corporation after first meeting certain requirements.
“This case is largely about several disgruntled AKA members disillusioned with what they see as an increasingly opaque, authoritarian, and self-serving leadership in their organization. Based on the voluminous record, questions may exist as to the propriety of the Directorate’s actions,” the judge wrote.
“The question remains, however, whether such behavior warrants judicial intervention particularly given the fact Plaintiffs appear to have attempted to circumvent the requirements of a shareholder derivative suit.”
Combs Greene said the lawsuit was short on specifics and long on “hyperbolic allegations riddled with buzz words.”
The sorority sisters who filed the lawsuit in June sought to remove McKinzie. They questioned the legitimacy of $375,000 in compensation that she received in 2007, saying that it was never approved by members and that past presidents have received only small stipends.
The plaintiffs also alleged that McKinzie bought designer clothing, jewelry and lingerie with the sorority credit card and then redeemed points on the card to buy other luxuries.
As for the wax statue commissioned for the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, McKinzie has said the sorority spent $45,000 on two figures, one of her and one of the group’s first international president, the late Nellie Quander.
Most of the sorority’s revenue comes from member dues and registration fees for membership meetings, the plaintiffs said.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Edward W. Gray Jr., said his clients are considering their options.
“The plaintiffs are utterly resolute and are determined to continue to fight,” he said.
AKA said the ruling reaffirms that McKinzie has led the group “with the utmost integrity and professionalism.”
“We have said from the outset that, once all of the facts surrounding this matter were examined in court, each and every one of the frivolous and false accusations made in the complaint would ultimately be dismissed,” McKinzie and AKA lawyer Dale Cooter said in a statement.
AKA, founded in 1908 at Howard University in Washington, boasts a worldwide membership of 250,000 women, including prominent Black businesswomen and such luminaries as author Toni Morrison.
The lawsuit caused a stir among sorority sisters, with people on both sides taking to online forums and supporters of the plaintiffs packing into court hearings wearing pink and green, the sorority’s colors.