March 12

Document-shredding lawsuit describes abusive atmosphere at CDC

A woman who worked for the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention says in the filing that many coworkers were fearful of management.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A woman who worked in the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has joined a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the agency, supporting some of the claims by a former supervisor who says she was harassed after refusing an order to destroy public documents.

Sharon Leahy-Lind, former director of public health for the CDC, filed the original lawsuit in October against the agency and its director, Sheila Pinette. The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously Friday to issue subpoenas to five CDC officials to compel them to testify.

According to court documents filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland, Katie Woodbury, an office manager who worked directly for Leahy-Lind, has joined the lawsuit.

And two more officials have been named as defendants in the amended lawsuit – Christine Zukas, the CDC’s deputy director, and Lisa Sockabasin, the CDC’s director of the Office of Health Equity.

In the documents filed Friday, Woodbury describes in great detail the atmosphere in the CDC. The lawsuit does not say whether Woodbury left the agency or still works there.

“If you do not agree with Chris Zukas, she’s got a hair trigger and she’ll rip you up,” Woodbury says in the lawsuit. “I’m a person that can take that, but I won’t. Some of this stuff that’s going on in the workplace is abuse. Blatant abuse.”

Woodbury also says she once heard Sockabasin yelling at Leahy-Lind, and “it was loud and it was not nice.”

Woodbury says many of her co-workers were fearful of management. She says Zukas and Sockabasin are “referred to as the Third Reich. The reign of terror. And that is how they operate.”

 

Read the full court filing.

After seeing what happened to Leahy-Lind, who eventually resigned after what she considered a pattern of harassment, Woodbury spoke up to her superiors and other co-workers. She even made comments to a Lewiston Sun Journal reporter, court documents say.

She says that once she did, her supervisors and co-workers determined that she was “on Sharon’s side,” and she was harassed and retaliated against for voicing concerns.

Even when she went to the human resources staff to report harassment, Woodbury says she was told “whistleblowers get guilty consciouses (sic),” and “maybe you shouldn’t have talked to the newspapers,” the court documents say.

Leahy-Lind alleges that she was ordered to shred documents associated with grant awards under the Healthy Maine Partnerships Program. The order, she said, came after the Sun Journal requested the documents under the Maine Freedom of Access Act.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

 

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