The real harm of discrimination must be exposed

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.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Amedeo Lauria's picture

Steve thanks, once again, for proving my statement that

when you cannot defend your arguements you rely on the ad hominem attack.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

Wish more people thought that way! Sadly, they don't.

Amedeo Lauria's picture

My goodness, don't hold the perpetrator responsible...

and FULLY accountable as that doesn't result in million dollar payouts, or fill the pockets of those who make a very good living on these types of cases.

If these settlements were a deterrance these types of behaviors whould have stopped or lessened; please don't tell me with a straight face they have.

Take away the giant payoffs and come up with a better way; that is my point. I never said we shouldn't deal with it, but tired of paying for it as a consumer and a taxpayer; and believe me we do.

The answer seems to be, hold the person with the deepest pockets accountable. We see the results in higher costs at the store and higher, federal, state and local property taxes.

Frank you made my point, some employers are unaware of their "smooth talkers" and tend to have misplaced loyalty. I've seen it time and time again. However, should they pay millions in settlements? This happens in government, private enterprise and non-profits; millions in settlement until the next boorish man or woman comes along. If they pick the wrong horse in these cases, they lose. If you have and employee trying to manipulate the system with a false claim and you fire your supervisor; lawsuit. If you support your guilty supervisor and are wrong; lawsuit.

It is easy to discuss when you have never had to deal with cases like this; I have! I could tell you stories...seen it all, the good, the bad and the ugly.

...and yes, we do have special people now, gone is "All men are created equal" that truth sadly is no longer self-evident.

Steve Bell's picture

Bye Bye

's OK, Colonel. I checked out some of your other posts, and I understand now. You're a bored troll. Hasta luego. You have my sympathy.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

This is all about accountability.....

If I hire an idiot, and that idiot acts out to another employee, or worse yet, to a customer, It would become my responsibility. It has nothing to do with "political correctness" or class of people, or whether your a democrat or republican. I become responsible because I hired him or her, it's that simple. These law suits are not totally the result of employee's being idiots, it's the employer's inaction in letting them continue. I've seen this activity in just about every facet of the work place. It's usually the smooth talking supervisor type. The one who thinks he's God's gift to everyone, the same one who continues to get away with it because he's so convincing. He's the one that seems to continually have people misunderstand his actions. That's his story anyway.
Employers need to be responsible for who they expose to other employee's or the public, to pay attention to complaints filed. To act responsibly before it turns into a lawsuit. In letting someone continue to harass, intimidate or bully others, the employer becomes the one who pays, be it the State, the Government, or the owner of the local KFC chain. In the end, allowing these activities to go on unchecked, will cost someone, financially or emotionally. Stop it before it gets out of control......

Amedeo Lauria's picture

Semantics?

This from the side of ultra politically correct speech with consequences for those who do not buy into it.

The left thrives on division and pitting citizen against citizen!

They also continue to create classes of Americans who are, by law, special people with rights above and beyond their fellow citizens; a nauseating game. The ultimate purpose to divide, silence, and maintain their power. Many of us understand the game, so it does no good to deny it.

I guess for some it is better to go through life victim, protected by a group that will ultimately keep you under their thumb, than to stand up for your rights under our Constitution.

So, I guess you point is to continue to rob Peter to pay Paul to rob Peter to pay Paul etc. etc. etc. A sickening game of monetary musical chairs with the taxpayers losing.

Steve Bell's picture

???

Not really sure what your point is, but you've certainly missed the mark all the way along. I'm a Republican, far from being a liberal, I'm somewhat conservative, and very much against the current mass exodus from common sense in favor of "political correctness." I also happen to think that as a retired educator, you'd be more aware of the meanings of the words you choose to use. I hardly think that quoting from a dictionary constitutes ultra political correctness.

The place where you seem to lose coherence is where you talk about creating special classes of citizens with rights above and beyond their fellow citizens. On the face of it, this seems to be referring to the administrators of the various organizations who appear to feel entitled to use their positions to commit illegal acts. But the general tone of your posts seems to indicate that you want to minimize people's perception of damage they do. Why should a person be allowed to break the law just because they're someone's boss? I find the idea confusing.

Please believe me, I think citizens are already too pitted against other citizens without inflammatory remarks that just tend to further polarize the situation.

Amedeo Lauria's picture

The high cost of boorish behavior made illegal...

...these types of actions would, in the past, get you a stern warning and if continued fired from your job by employers. They did it because it had a negative impact on organizational teamwork and sales.

Now it is another lottery in the state of Maine with a high payoff on the backs of taxpayers and not all cases have merit, but must still go through the process lock-step with the resulting associated costs. The lawyers love it of course!

For every boorish person who is fined, another will soon take their place; as we see over and over again.

I guess we should just continue to write the checks out of the general fund and not look for better, less expensive ways, to handle this situation.

RONALD RIML's picture

The Good Colonel appears to be confusing

Boorish with Illegal. That lesson costs a pretty penny.

Steve Bell's picture

Boorish or abusive?

Boorish? Or Abusive. You decide.

boor·ish [boo?r-ish] Show IPA
adjective
of or like a boor; unmannered; crude; insensitive.
Origin:
1555–65; boor + -ish1

Related forms
boor·ish·ly, adverb.
boor·ish·ness, noun.

Synonyms
coarse, uncouth, loutish, churlish. Boorish, oafish, rude, uncouth all describe persons, acts, manners, or mannerisms that violate in some way the generally accepted canons of polite, considerate behavior. Boorish originally referring to behavior characteristic of an unlettered rustic or peasant, now implies a coarse and blatant lack of sensitivity to the feelings or values of others: a boorish refusal to acknowledge greetings. Oafish suggests slow-witted, loutlike, clumsy behavior: oafish table manners. Rude has the widest scope of meaning of these words; it suggests either purposefully impudent discourtesy or, less frequently, a rough crudity of appearance or manner: a rude remark; a rude thatched hut. Uncouth stresses most strongly in modern use a lack of good manners, whether arising from ignorance or brashness: uncouth laughter; an uncouth way of staring at strangers.

a·bu·sive [uh-byoo-siv] Show IPA
adjective
1.
using, containing, or characterized by harshly or coarsely insulting language: an abusive author; abusive remarks.
2.
treating badly or injuriously; mistreating, especially physically: his abusive handling of the horse.
3.
wrongly used; corrupt: an abusive exercise of power.

Definitions copy/pasted directly from Dictionary.com.

IMO, playing a semantic game to try to marginalize people and minimize the hurt done doesn't really help.

Steve  Dosh's picture

all, 12.26.12 19:00 hst ? $2

all, 12.26.12 19:00 hst ?
$2 million in civil settlements is a drop in the bucket and worth every penny . This is how lawyers earn their pay, too . As a former Ombudsman for the U S Federal Govt. we'd see it all the time , i.e., discrimination against G L B T . It's wrong . You are correct ? /s Steve

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