April 24, 2013

Woman punished for blowing whistle on Old Orchard finances

A Maine Human Rights Commission report notes that former employee Kelly Roy 'had reasonable cause' to see irregularities.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

An investigator with the Maine Human Rights Commission has found "reasonable grounds" to believe that a former Old Orchard Beach town employee suffered discrimination and was retaliated against for reporting financial irregularities.

The town has denied all claims by the former employee, Kelly Roy.

Michele Dion, an investigator with the commission, concluded in a report issued last week that Roy was punished for protected whistleblower activity.

Dion recommends that Roy and the town seek conciliation – an agreement that satisfies the concerns of both sides.

Dion's report, which the Portland Press Herald obtained Tuesday, says Roy filed a complaint with the state on May 30, 2012, alleging she was retaliated against for raising concerns about the town's financial activities, "which she had reasonable cause to believe were unlawful."

Roy could not be reached Tuesday, but town officials confirmed that she voluntarily left her position as office manager for the Department of Public Works about a month ago.

Roy's attorney, Alexander Spadinger of Saco, issued a brief statement by email saying, "Ms. Roy and I are very pleased with the recommendations made in investigator Dion's report, which clearly describes what Ms. Roy has been put through."

Roy began working as the Public Works Department's office manager in February 2010. In July 2011, she was asked to take on additional duties in the town's Finance Department that included processing accounts payable and payroll.

Roy told the investigator that on Feb. 29, 2012, she wrote a letter to her supervisor, the director of public works, expressing "grave concerns" that there were financial irregularities in the Finance Department.

Roy said she wrote the letter to protect the town and herself. "I felt that it was my duty to report the problems in the Finance Department before serious harm occurred," she told Dion.

Dion's report quotes Roy as saying she found that:

The town's purchasing policies were violated.

Child support payments were not properly applied through payroll.

Bills were not paid on time.

Town contributions to retirement funds were not being made.

Form 1099 tax statements were not being issued properly.

Roy told Dion that she resigned her duties in the Finance Department in February 2012.

She later told Roy, "Since writing my memo at the end of February 2012, I have been the subject of discriminatory actions and threats."

She described being threatened with firing, reduced work hours and required use of a time clock when her co-workers weren't required to do the same.

In her report, Dion says former Town Manager Mark Pearson – who was fired by the Town Council last month – and former Finance Director Catherine Saltz "applied pressure, in less than subtle ways, in an overt attempt at encouraging Ms. Roy to leave her position, all of which would dissuade a reasonable employee from bringing a complaint."

The town contends that there was no evidence to support a whistleblower claim. The town's Portland-based attorney, Glenn Israel, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Cindy Albert, a case controller with the Human Rights Commission, said the town can file a submission of disagreement with the commission asking that it set aside Dion's recommendation.

If no disagreement submission is received, the commission will consider Roy's complaint on May 20. If the commission accepts the investigator's report, it can require both sides to seek conciliation.

 

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com

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