A defiant Antonia Hernandez, fired from her post as the top executive of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, reported for work on Tuesday amid expressions of support from co-workers and friends.
She was at her desk at MALDEF's Los Angeles headquarters at 8:15 a.m., fielding telephone calls and handling paper work. A brother, Peter, 27, sat quietly in a nearby chair, lending moral support as she insisted to visitors that she was illegally fired as president and general counsel of what is considered one of the nation's leading Latino civil rights organizations.
Hernandez, 38, was dismissed last Saturday in Dallas at a meeting of the executive committee of MALDEF's board of directors after a series of disagreements over her performance. The job was then offered to former New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya, who accepted.
'Not Moving Out'
Despite that, Hernandez went to work on Tuesday--the organization's offices were closed Monday in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday--and insisted that she is still in charge.
"I'm not moving out," she said. "I'm the lawful president and general counsel."
She continued to argue that only the 34 members of the board of directors, not the executive committee composed of about 15 members, could dismiss her. Sources within MALDEF said that Hernandez may file suit in Texas alleging that she was illegally fired in Dallas.
After she arrived at MALDEF's offices on South Spring Street, Hernandez met with about a dozen local staff members, who later released a letter in support of her.
Linda J. Wong, a MALDEF associate counsel here, said Hernandez's position was unanimously supported by about 60 staffers in the group's four regional offices.
The office staff refused to meet with Los Angeles lawyer Manuel Sanchez, a board member who wanted to explain Hernandez's dismissal. "There was nothing to meet about," Wong said.
Hernandez also received support from several board members, including Ignacio Lozano Jr., editor-in-chief of La Opinion.
"I don't have anything against Gov. Anaya, but I think the manner in which he was selected without other candidates being considered is improper," said Lozano, whose Los Angeles newspaper is one of the largest Spanish-language publications in the country.
Supporters of Hernandez said they will try to call a special meeting of the board of directors on Feb. 21 in Los Angeles to resolve the matter.
If Hernandez's supporters were shocked by her dismissal after 17 months, other board members were equally dismayed by events.
Board Chairman Eric P. Serna, in a telephone interview, called her statements "in very poor taste . . . . It served as an example of the kind of problems we've had (with her)."
'Very Sad Thing'
Sanchez, who chaired the governing board's personnel committee, added: "It's a very sad thing that one human being thinks that this organization belongs to her. They're treating it like a hobby shop."
Serna and Sanchez said that Hernandez had failed to perform adequately in several major areas, including fund raising.
The two maintained that the executive committee was rightfully empowered to remove Hernandez, pointing out that the decision was made only after she left the Dallas meeting--even though she was specifically told to remain for further discussions.
Told by a friend at the meeting that there was nothing she could do to save her job, Hernandez said, she left to keep a commitment in Los Angeles. "I was a lamb ready for slaughter," she said.