Former Employee Sues Brand USA: Mary Ellen Curto, once the vice president of operations of Brand USA, has sued the agency for wrongful dismissal, alleging that her whistleblowing activities which centered on her reports to different official entities of irregularities in the way in which BUSA secured in-kind contributions from its travel industry partners, as well as other procurement and hiring practices, resulted her termination in October 2013 (she joined BUSA in 2012). While there are other charges, the key to her lawsuit is the characterization of the partnerships between BUSA and travel industry partners as “kickbacks,” in which DMOS could donate the cost of international marketing programs to the agency, which would reimburse the DMO 100 percent—in some cases with a 30 percent premium. Brand USA uses such in-kind industry contributions in order to receive matching funds collected from travelers by the U.S. government. Brand USA has responded by saying that her termination was for cause and, essentially, that outside audits have indicated no irregularities or wrongdoing on its part. In the suit, which was filed Oct. 7 in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., but only recently came to light, Curto is seeking punitive and compensatory damages.
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