BUCKFIELD — After initially being denied unemployment benefits, the former Buckfield library director won her appeal with the Department of Labor, which  ruled she was entitled to unemployment benefits, according to her attorney.

West Minot resident Bonnie Santos was the Zadoc Free Library director from February 2014 until Jan. 21, 2017, when Buckfield Town Manager Cindy Dunn terminated her.  Santos previously served as assistant director of the library since 2010.

The ruling came from Department of Labor Administrative Hearing Officer Wayne Reed, according to Santos’ attorney, David Webbert.

“The process has been a ping-pong match,” Dunn said about the denial and appeal. “It was ruled in the town’s favor initially. The second time it was ruled in the former employee’s favor.”

The town has until Saturday, May 20, to appeal Reed’s decision.

Santos and Webbert said her termination was unlawful and violated the town’s Personnel Policy and the Maine Human Rights Act, including the right to medical leave, the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, the Maine Family Medical Leave Requirements law and the federal constitutional right to due process. They assert Santos was fired because she was scheduled to take a medical leave for a necessary heart surgery.

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Dunn has denied that. She previously said Santos’ termination was based solely on her performance. Specific reasons have not been made public.

Last week, Santos welcomed the news that she won her appeal.

“I am very pleased that the Department of Labor appeals hearing officer’s … report that I received (May 8) confirmed that I am entitled to unemployment benefits based on the incorrect procedure that was used to fire me,” Santos said.

Dunn previously pointed to the town’s Personnel Policy regarding the procedure in terminating Santos. 

The policy has a number of steps for disciplining an employee, including counseling and verbal warning, written warning, suspension and final written warning and termination. While the policy states the town will try to exercise these steps in order, it can combine and skip steps, depending on each situation.

Dunn said she hasn’t decided yet whether the town will appeal the ruling. She said the estimated maximum unemployment that can be paid to Santos is $4,000.

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Dunn said at a May 15 board meeting that the town has spent $840 in attorney fees on the matter.

Regardless of what action the town decides to take on the appeal, there is still Santos’ wrongful termination case that needs to be settled.

“We won the unemployment but more importantly we got evidence under oath that supports the wrongful termination case,” Webbert said. “Bonnie would like to resolve this matter out of court.”

He added that he offered the town go to mediation to work out Santos’ case, but did not receive a response back.

Dunn said she was unaware of any offer.

Webbert said he would file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission before taking the matter to court.

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