About 30 employees of Remuda Ranch, Wickenburg's largest employer, were dismissed last week. But the Chief Executive Officer of the company said that it had nothing to do with the change in stock holdings in June.
The parent company of the Remuda Ranch Treatment Centers was sold in June by Thomas Nelson Publishers, and purchased by a group made up of Remuda founder and CEO Ward Keller, Prospect Partners of Chicago and Prairie Capital.
Keller said that over the years, majority holdings in Remuda Ranch Center for Anorexia and Bulimia, which employs about 500 people, has changed a number of times, and that this recent transaction was really "not news."
"This has happened seven times in 10 years and it really doesn't affect anybody," Keller said. "It doesn't affect the company, the community or the employees. It's like trading stock in a public company. Our stock just changed hands."
But last week, when some 30 people received pink slips, and rumors began to swirl about the motives behind some of the terminations, a non-news event suddenly became the talk of the town.
"Last week we made some adjustments that were not major, and the change in stock ownership didn't have anything to do with those adjustments," Keller said. "With all companies, we are always looking at staffing levels for our patients and sometimes we need to right-size positions to fit our current needs."
Keller said the information being discussed on the street was not accurate, and that rumored layoff figures of both 12 percent and 100 employees were wrong.
He did not have an exact number, though he said 30 FTEs (Full Time Equivalent) is a closer reflection in the amount of those recently discharged across the board from a variety of departments.
A portion of the terminated employees came through a layoff; some employees voluntarily quit; and some were fired -- which Keller said happens every week at Remuda.
"Not a week goes by that someone does not quit, or become terminated at Remuda, and it really can't be helped considering our size," he said. "There were just a few more last week than normal and though it's not a huge issue, to someone who lost their job, it's a big deal and I'm sensitive to that."
Employees were notified by memo of the ownership change, but not all the employees who were let go last week agree with Keller's right-sizing theory.
Melissa Labrusciano, who was employed with Remuda for more than two years, said she was fired for insubordination. She believes that in the way she was terminated, it has left a black mark on her record, which she said was impeccable until her last week with Remuda.
"We have supervision meetings every week, and I've always been praised highly by my supervisor," Labrusciano said. "And it's been documented on two performance evaluations that were outstanding. But that all seemed to change at the end of September."
"This type of mark on my record, is going to make it very hard for me to get another job," Labrusciano said. "My status with Remuda is not re-hirable and this is not right because it makes me look like something I'm not."
Keller, who had hoped to fend off gossip as the layoffs were happening, sent a broadcast message via the employee voice mail system. He asked the remaining employees not to listen to gossip and rumors, and to please not use the patients as sounding boards.
Regarding Labrusciano, he said this week that he knew who she was, but for reasons of confidentiality, he could not comment on the specifics of her situation.
He did say, though, that those who have contacted the Sun -- and there were no less than six who phoned or stopped by with concerns -- are what is called "disgruntled terminated employees."
"No one likes it when they lose their job and some people become very unhappy," he said. "But we hopefully treated them nicely and did the appropriate things that any company does when they have adjustments or right-sizing of the organization to make."
Arizona is a right-to-work state, and Keller said that anyone can terminate any employee for any reason, as long as it doesn't violate title 7 federal discrimination laws.
He said that only once in 12 years has a discharged employee brought a lawyer to Remuda, and he does not believe that Labrusciano has much of a case.
"I don't know what the details are, but most lawyers will say they can't take the case, because there is no discrimination," he said. "So, Melissa's threats, I think, are just trying to get the attention of the newspaper and hopefully somehow discredit Remuda's name."
It is yet to be known if Labrusciano has a legal case against Remuda, but she feels she has a moral obligation to see it through to the end.
"You know, if they had come to me and told me that they needed to trim the budget and lay me off, I could have respected that," she said. "But to demean my credibility by saying that I was insubordinate, it was a slap in the face and I need to make this right."