March 1, 2013

Maine's high court restores state worker's job

The employee is reinstated after being fired because his wife worked for a firm his bureau regulates.

By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal

Michael Nadeau of Windham has won his job back a second time, and this time it came with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's stamp of approval.

Nadeau was fired 32 months ago by the state Bureau of Insurance on the grounds that he was married to a vice president of a bureau-regulated insurance firm. He went to the Maine State Employees SEIU Local 1989 for help. The union took the matter to arbitration, where Nadeau won reinstatement and back pay a year ago.

The state appealed the award to a Kennebec County Superior Court judge, saying Nadeau's reinstatement violated a statute that "prohibits the bureau from employing persons 'connected with the management' of bureau-related entities."

Justice Michaela Murphy queried the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. She asked whether that phrasing referred to people who had "family or personal relationships with managers of regulated entities" or whether the statute prohibited "employment of persons who are engaged in the work of managing such a regulated entity."

Even after the high court's ruling, that question remains unanswered.

The justices declined to weigh in and sent the case back to Murphy with instructions to confirm the arbitrator's decision.

"We're left with no decision on the legal issues sent to the highest court," said Assistant Attorney General Tom Sturtevant, who argued for the state. "The law court said the statute was ambiguous, and it did not have the jurisdiction to revisit the arbitrator's decision."

On the other hand, the union's lawyer, Tim Belcher, who represented Nadeau, described the ruling as "a very good, strong decision by the law court."

Belcher said Nadeau was "very excited and I think a little shell-shocked after all this time."

The high court's ruling cannot be appealed.

It's unclear how much back pay Nadeau is to receive.

"A man who really did a very good job for the state is ready to come back to do that work," Belcher said.

Belcher also said Nadeau has been working elsewhere for at least part of the time.

According to court documents, Nadeau met his wife, Christine Candage, in 2005 at an insurance company he was assigned to audit, waiting until the audit was over to date her. They married in January 2008. Nadeau later was ordered to audit his wife's firm, and he objected, saying it would be a conflict of interest.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

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