Webbert says, woman earned excellent performance reviews but was abruptly fired after reporting concerns

Read the entire article here at the Bangor Daily News.

County women sue, alleging they were fired after reporting billing fraud

Two Aroostook County women who say they were unlawfully fired from their jobs as program supervisors after they reported concerns about alleged illegal and fraudulent MaineCare billing practices have filed suit in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

Julie Ivey of Houlton and Angela Cowger of Danforth were employees in the Houlton office of Addison Point Specialized Services Inc., a federally and state-funded social services provider for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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Attorney David Webbert of Augusta, who is representing Angela Cowger, said Thursday that Ivey and Cowger earned excellent performance reviews at their jobs but were abruptly fired within two working days after reporting their shared concerns to top managers. According to court documents, Cowger and Ivey made reports in 2014 that they believed Addison Point was improperly billing the Department of Health and Human Services for services that were not actually provided to clients.

According to the lawsuit, both women were told by company higher ups that the billing was proper, but when the women continued to raise concerns they were fired.

Ivey and Cowger had no prior discipline or warnings, according to Webbert, and he added that Addison Point admitted it fired Ivey and Cowger based on their reports about illegal billing. Cowger had been working at the agency since 2007 and Ivey since 2011. This lack of progressive discipline violated their employer’s own written policy requiring progressive discipline before termination, according to the lawsuit, including the three prior steps of an oral warning, written warning and a final written warning.

The Maine Human Rights Commission conducted an independent investigation and unanimously determined that there were reasonable grounds to believe Addison Point committed unlawful retaliation against Ivey and Cowger in violation of the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act and the Maine Human Rights Act.

After investigating Cowger’s complaint, the MHRC found that Addison Point “could not show a legitimate reason to discharge her outside of her continued voicing of concerns regarding improper billing.”

After investigating Ivey’s complaint, the MHRC found that Cowger and Ivey were fired at the same time that they brought forth the allegations about improper billing.

“The fact that both reported what they believed was unlawful activity and both were discharged shortly after bringing forward their reports adds forward plausibility to Ivey’s claim of retaliation,” investigators noted in their report.

Webbert said the court this week granted a motion to schedule a settlement conference, and the parties are waiting for a date to be set.

“All of the parties will meet then to discuss a settlement,” he said. “If we don’t agree, we will ask for a jury trial.”

Webbert said the firing was “additionally unfair” to Cowger, who has not been able to find employment since the firing and is going back to college to secure a degree to be able to do the same work she had been doing at Addison Point.

“Cowger had a perfect record there,” her attorney said. “To fire someone who is doing their job and was a top employee and basically admit that you did it was particularly unjust.”

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Cowger and Ivey are seeking damages, including compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial, back pay, lost employment benefits, other lost compensation and interest on those amounts. They also are asking that Addison Point provide effective civil rights training for all human resources employees and all supervisors on the requirements of all applicable laws prohibiting whistleblower retaliation.

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Attorney Jeffrey Young says, “Ms. Worthy risked her career to protect the taxpayers”

Read the entire story here at MPBN.

Lawsuit Alleges Mercy Hospital Collected Millions in Fraudulent Medicare Billing

A lawsuit alleging that Mercy Hospital in Portland and its billing companies collected millions of dollar from Medicare through a number of fraudulent billing schemes, such as double billing, can move forward now that a federal judge has refused to dismiss most of the counts in the suit.

The complaint was filed in April 2014 by Jennifer Worthy, Mercy’s former patient accounts manager, who also claims in the suit that she was the victim of retaliation because of her efforts to the stop the unlawful billing practices.

“The complaint alleges 10 different schemes, which Ms. Worthy says she observed, and again I want to emphasize that those are allegations based on her observations. They still remain to be proven,” says Attorney Jeffrey Young, who is representing Worthy. “She has, in essence, risked her career to protect the taxpayers, you and me, from what she observed to be unlawful billing of the government.”

Katler says ruling protects all Maine workers from illegal retaliation.

Read the entire story here in the Kennebec Journal.

A human rights panel sided with a Farmingdale man in an employment discrimination complaint . . .

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The Maine Human Rights Commission voted 2-1 Monday to find reasonable grounds to believe a Farmingdale man, Conrod Wilson, was a victim of retaliation when he was fired within a week of telling management he believed he was a victim of race discrimination.

Wilson had complained to the commission about his termination from his job with GIRI Community Drive LLC/GIRI Hotel Management of Augusta/Best Western of Augusta.

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Wilson, who previously lived in Randolph, worked for the hotel in the housekeeping department from March 2011 until his firing on Feb. 21, 2013. He was removed from his job as breakfast room attendant, described as a desirable post, in Feb. 14, 2013, and given other housekeeping/cleaning responsibilities.

“He was told quote, ‘Management wants an older white woman in that position,’” Wilson’s attorney, Max Katler, told commissioners.

When Wilson told management he believed that was unlawful discrimination, Wilson was fired, Katler said.

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The case now moves into a conciliation phase, and Katler said after the hearing that if that process fails, he anticipates moving forward with a federal lawsuit against the hotel.

“The MHRC has sent Best Western an important message that it cannot punish employees who report reasonable concerns about illegal discrimination in the workplace,” Katler said later via email. “This ruling protects all Maine workers from illegal retaliation and reminds all employers that Maine has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination in the workplace.”

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Atty. Gray: Clear Pan Am violated the law

Read the entire story here at the Kennebec Journal.

RailroadWinslow man says Pan Am fired him for medical leave request.

 

 

“I think it is pretty clear they violated the law,” said Allison Gray, a human rights attorney from Johnson Webbert and Young in Augusta, which represents Thomas.

On Thursday, Gray said that unlike what happens in many other investigations, Beauchesne did not hold conferences with the parties and only used their initial filings to make his investigative decisions.

That is “a sign of the strength of our case” and Pan Am’s liability, Gray said.

MHRC finds reasonable grounds to believe Pan Am Railways unlawfully discriminated against Maine worker on account of his having cancer

Read the full article at the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinal here.

In several other cases involving local people and organizations, commissioners found reasonable grounds to believe that Eric L. Thomas of Winslow was subjected to unlawful disability discrimination by Pan Am Railways Inc., of Billerica, Massachusetts, when the company refused to grant accommodations, terminated his employment and retaliated against him.

The investigator’s report indicated Thomas worked for Pan Am at the railroad company’s location in Waterville from July 2012 to Feb. 28, 2014, first as a machinist and then as assistant manager. He took medical leave for cancer treatment and returned to the company as a machinist rather than his former position.

Katler says, “Ruling protects all Maine workers from illegal retaliation . . . “

Read the full article here at the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinal.

AUGUSTA — A human rights panel sided with a Farmingdale man in an employment discrimination complaint and a Skowhegan landlord in a housing discrimination complaint.

The two were among the local cases handled Monday by the Maine Human Rights Commission. The panel’s findings are not law, but may become grounds for lawsuits.

The Maine Human Rights Commission voted 2-1 Monday to find reasonable grounds to believe a Farmingdale man, Conrod Wilson, was a victim of retaliation when he was fired within a week of telling management he believed he was a victim of race discrimination.

Wilson had complained to the commission about his termination from his job with GIRI Community Drive LLC/GIRI Hotel Management of Augusta/Best Western of Augusta.

In a separate issue, the commission voted 3-0 against Wilson on his charge that he was a victim of discrimination because of race, color, national origin/ancestry, age and sex. Wilson, now 37, is originally from Jamaica, according to the report of the commission investigator.

Wilson, who previously lived in Randolph, worked for the hotel in the housekeeping department from March 2011 until his firing on Feb. 21, 2013. He was removed from his job as breakfast room attendant, described as a desirable post, in Feb. 14, 2013, and given other housekeeping/cleaning responsibilities.

“He was told quote, ‘Management wants an older white woman in that position,’” Wilson’s attorney, Max Katler, told commissioners.

When Wilson told management he believed that was unlawful discrimination, Wilson was fired, Katler said.

The management, through attorney Bob Kline, told commissioners that Wilson was fired because he failed to re-clean a large bathroom in a common area after being told to do so and walked off the job. According to the commission investigator’s report, management also said that Wilson repeatedly failed to turn in required checklists about the work he had done each day.

The case now moves into a conciliation phase, and Katler said after the hearing that if that process fails, he anticipates moving forward with a federal lawsuit against the hotel.

“The MHRC has sent Best Western an important message that it cannot punish employees who report reasonable concerns about illegal discrimination in the workplace,” Katler said later via email. “This ruling protects all Maine workers from illegal retaliation and reminds all employers that Maine has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination in the workplace.”

Wilson said after the hearing that he has since found employment in another industry. Kline was in a meeting and unavailable to respond after the hearing.

New York Times Reports: Maine Democratic Speaker Accuses GOP Governor of Blackmail

Read the full article at the New York Times here

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives accused Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday of blackmailing a charter school by threatening to withhold state funding from it to get him fired from a job there.

Rep. Mark Eves said LePage told school operator Good Will-Hinckley it had to remove Eves as president or lose $500,000 in state funds, resulting in a loss of an additional $2 million in private funds.

A lawyer for Eves said he’s considering taking legal action against the governor.

“The governor’s actions represent the worst kind of vendetta politics Maine has ever seen,” Eves said in a statement. “If it goes unchecked, no legislator will feel safe in voting his conscience for fear that the governor will go after the legislator’s family and livelihood.”

Eves was expected on July 1 to assume the post of president of Good Will-Hinckley, which operates the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, the state’s first charter school.

But Good Will-Hinckley Chairman Jack Moore said it will seek a new president because it doesn’t want to be involved in a “political controversy that will divert attention away from our core mission of serving children” and potentially jeopardize the future of the school.

A LePage spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Earlier this month, LePage urged school officials not to hire Eves because he frequently opposed public charter schools in the Legislature. The governor is a strong supporter of charter schools and has pushed to expand them across the state.

“On behalf of all who have worked so hard to ensure that every Maine student has access to an education that is best suited to their individual needs, I must question your boards’ decision to appoint a person so adamantly opposed to charter schools as president of the organization that runs one of Maine’s most prominent charter schools,” LePage said in a letter to the boards of the school and its operator.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, called the governor’s actions “personal, angry and vindictive.”

“Political battles are one thing. Trying to ruin someone is quite another,” Katz, of Augusta, said in an email.

A lawyer for Eves accused LePage of violating the law by using taxpayer dollars as retaliation. He said Eves had hoped the governor would back down on his threat but their attempts to get him to do so have failed.

“Mark is not looking for getting into a battle with the governor, he wants to focus on the work of the Legislature,” attorney David Webbert said. “But he is now out of a job that he was counting on to support his three children and his family, and at some point you have to take care of your own personal welfare.”

The president of the Maine Community College System stepped down in January after LePage called on him to resign because he didn’t implement initiatives the governor sought. LePage flat-funded the community colleges in his proposed budget, and John Fitzsimmons said the governor “threatened further harm” if he remained in his post.

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This story has been corrected to show Good Will-Hinckley is the name of the school’s operator, not the name of the school.

Race Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit

Read the full article at the Bangor Daily News here

WARREN, Maine — A former nurse at the Maine State Prison has filed a federal lawsuit against the private company that provides health care to Maine corrections facilities, claiming she was subjected to frequent racial taunts and that her employer retaliated by firing her when she complained.

Attorney David Webbert of Augusta filed the civil rights lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland on behalf of Shana E. Cannell, who worked as a licensed practical nurse at the prison from February through October 2010. The lawsuit names Corizon LLC and three of its employees — Brian Castonguay, Larry Brayhall and Tammy Hatch.

Webbert said that the prison was aware of the actions of Corizon although the state is not named in the lawsuit. The lawsuit states that some prison staffers also made derogatory comments toward Cannell, who is black.

Cannell, who now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, claims in the lawsuit that she was subjected to racial slurs. She said when she complained to her supervisors she was given less favorable assignments and ultimately fired.

In her lawsuit, Cannell lists the derogatory comments made by co-workers. In addition to the slurs, she said that other employees would say that “cleaning up messes is what your people do,” “of course your people like chocolate, a chocolate for a chocolate,” and “I can be the fried chicken and you can be the watermelon.” One of the people accused of making the comments was fellow nurse Brayhall.

The woman said she went both to Castonguay, who was the director of nursing, and Hatch, who was the administrator.

“Defendants orchestrated and condoned a continuing campaign of harassment against Cannell because of her race and in retaliation for her opposition to the unlawful race discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” the lawsuit states.

Cannell claims in the lawsuit that after she made her complaints there was an incident in which she was not protected when an inmate made serious and repeated threats against her personal safety, and that her car was ransacked while she was at work.