In the past decade, between paying the legal bills and paying compensation to abused state workers, Maine has spent nearly $2 million in civil settlements.
Maine taxpayers — that’s us — have been forced to pay to settle dozens of claims of extremely bad behavior in state government departments, including the Labor Department, the Department of Education, the Secretary of State’s Office and the Department of Environmental Protection.
The largest percent of cases and the highest dollar settlement payouts were seen in the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Corrections, respectively.
That’s worth repeating.
The state’s top law enforcement department and its corrections department were home to the most litigated cases of sexual harassment and retaliation in the last 10 years.
That’s beyond outrageous.
A Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting investigation, published Dec. 19, revealed the disgraceful behavior and the costly settlement agreements in state government based on its review of public records detailing the accusations and resulting compensation.
For instance, taxpayers spent $20,000 to settle a claim made by a state prison worker who was subjected to regular sexual harassment, including being referred to as “Genitalia” instead of her real name, and being asked about her favorite sexual positions.
No one should have to endure that degradation, never mind at work and certainly not from fellow corrections officers who most certainly know better.
In another case, a state trooper filed a sexual harassment complaint against his supervising sergeant, objecting to the supervisor’s regular comments about oral sex and his suggestion that the two take a naked sauna together.
The young trooper was transferred, and we paid $50,000 to compensate him for the harassment.
Of the cases included in the MCPIR investigation, 58 percent of them involved sexual harassment or claims of retaliation. Among all cases settled, 66 percent of the injured were woman.
In 2012, in a story widely reported in Maine’s press, Andrea Lani filed a retaliation complaint against the Department of Environmental Protection claiming she was demoted after testifying before the Legislature on the health dangers of BPA. Lani, who was heading the state’s Safer Chemicals in Children’s Products program at the time, was on vacation the day she testified and not speaking on behalf of the department.
She had been working for DEP for 12 years when this happened, but her superiors didn't appreciate her challenging them, and Maine taxpayers have since paid Lani $65,000 to compensate her for the retaliation.
There were cases of discrimination based on race, disability, age and ancestry, and a dozen claims from whistle-blowers who were punished for reporting violations at the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Administration and Finance, the Department of Conservation, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, the Department of Transportation and the departments of public safety and corrections.
These were people who came forward to report their employers — our state government — for various violations and were punished for doing so. They were punished for watching out for taxpayers, which is inexcusable. And, for which we paid more than $344,000 to compensate them.
Compounding the sting of paying compensation for so many violations is that nearly all of the settlement agreements reached in the past 10 years carry non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses, which means the complainants cannot talk about what happened nor can they speak ill of the people at fault.
So, taxpayers foot the settlement bill but we don’t know for what infractions, and most of the people responsible for the bad behavior continue on at work.
Never mind that it’s insulting, it doesn’t make any sense.
A representative of the Maine State Troopers Association has criticized the Sun Journal’s decision to publish a list of the victims in these cases, and we understand how difficult it can be for victims of retaliation and sexual harassment to gather the courage to come forward. However, we feel strongly that the public has a need to know that state employees — many in leadership positions — are abusing their co-workers. And, not just the occasional incident, but routine and unabashed abuse.
That’s just plain wrong, and the more that can be done to expose the bad behavior the more likely it will be that these incidents will be treated seriously and — in time — behaviors will change for the better.
These illegal activities are going on in state government and we have a right to know what’s going on and a duty to demand change. If we don't, we're going to keep footing the bill for appallingly unacceptable behavior.