An Olympia Fields woman who worked with a Chicago-based
sorority for more than 40 years is trying to get a court to overturn an
arbitrator’s decision that could cost her $1.6 million.
Barbara McKinzie identified as a member for more than 40
years of Alpha Kappa Alpha, and from 2006 to 2010, she served as the
organization’s president, attaining the title of “Supreme Basileus.”
But on June 21, 2013, the sorority sued her in Cook County
Circuit Court, alleging McKinzie embezzled more than $1 million during her term.
According to that complaint, McKinzie in July 2007 convinced
sorority directors to pay her a one-time stipend of $250,000 “because she
claimed to have created substantial savings for AKA by virtue of her financial
expertise and hard work over the past year.”
Later that month, the directors also approved a $4,000
monthly retirement benefit, which amounted to $192,000 based on her 48-month
term. The complaint alleged McKinzie told directors the retirement payment
equaled that of the executive director, but that proved to be untrue. It also
accused her of establishing a second set of accounting records to circumvent
established sorority policy and conceal her activity.
The matter ultimately went to arbitration, with proceedings
taking place from November 2015 through March 2016. On Oct. 10, 2016, an
arbitrator ruled in favor of the sorority, awarding it $1.34 million in
restitution and damages and $295,000 in legal fees and costs. McKinzie was
granted 90 days to file a petition to vacate the award, a window that expired
Jan. 9, 2017. She did file on that day, claiming the arbitrator erroneously
applied Illinois law instead of Washington, D.C., law, as well as “failed to
apply the correct construction of materiality’ as dictated by District of
As part of her petition to vacate, McKinzie noted Alpha
Kappa Alpha, of which “most members are prominent African American women,” is
established under District of Columbia laws but headquartered in Chicago. She
also detailed the 2007 meeting at which directors unanimously approved her
stipend and retirement plan, then noted she made presentations about those
plans at two different membership meetings.
Of special note is an email Thomas McLeary, of Endow, Inc.,
sent McKinzie on June 15, 2007, giving her cost estimates for the retirement
plan. The arbitrator determined McKinzie breached fiduciary duty by failing to
disclose the McLeary email before the directors voted on her retirement plan
that July. McKinzie argued Washington, D.C., law would not hold that failure to
disclose as a breach of duty, thereby negating the basis for the arbitrator’s
To support this claim, McKinzie cites the sorority’s
constitution and bylaws, which designate the laws of the District of Columbia
“as those governing its affairs, including litigation deriving therefrom.” She
further agued the email does not rise to the level of material information that
would have affected the way sorority directors voted on he retirement award.
McKinzie cited testimony from the directors meeting of several board members
saying the cost of McKinzie’s pension plan was not significant to their
McKinzie also said the arbitrator “imputed undue weight to
the post-hoc testimonies of AKA members and others who were not parties to the
pension vote” and “failed to impartially assess expert testimonies.” She also
said the arbitrator exceeded judicial authority by ordering actions
inconsistent with established sorority policy.
Representing McKinzie in the matter is the firm of Barney
& Karamanis, of Chicago.
Alpha Kappa Alpha is represented by Henderson Adam LLC, of