Maine AOC Union Grievance – My last 2 Days as a Maine State Employee

This story has two distinct time periods. One is the 5 years prior to 11am, Thursday, September 6th, and the other is after.

 

In the 5 years prior, I was hired to be the grant accountant at the Maine Judicial Branch. My responsibilities were to account for and report monthly the activity of the federal grants.

 

That was it. That was my only responsibility included in my job description.

 

During those 5 years, I was given responsibility for monthly reporting on all special revenue funds. When Ravi Jackson left, I was given his responsibility for accounting for all bond invoices and monthly bond activity reporting. I was given his responsibility for accounting for and reconciling the MJB fixed assets. I was given the responsibility for completing the 2014 indirect cost worksheets. These consist of about 20 separate worksheets that are linked together to create the federal indirect cost rate. I created a simple single spreadsheet that consolidated and reconciled all cost allocations contained in those 20 something individual spreadsheets which, without this reconciliation, have a high risk of errors in the details. I continued to be responsible for completing certain spreadsheets and for supplying the consultants with all the documentation they required each year.

 

I was given the responsibility to visit every court location, and along with Dan Sorrells, we reviewed over 200 individual case files at every court location in a review of financial controls.

 

I was given the sole responsibility to investigate a suspected fraud at one court location.

 

When one employee was out on medical leave, I was given her job responsibilities to reconcile and follow up on the weekly cash reporting and reconciliations for all courts. I continued to pitch in with this responsibility whenever asked if she found herself falling behind or on vacation or medical leave.

 

I was given another staff member’s responsibility for reconciling and following up on all 63 monthly bail checking account reconciliations. I created unilaterally a monthly bail checking account status report for management. I cleared several ongoing reconciling items, some which have been outstanding for 10 years because Ellen Hjelm refused to write them off.

 

In the process of performing these duties over 5 year, my consistent response to any and every request from management, without exception, was to say, I’ll get right on it, with a smile, a positive attitude and goodwill.

 

I recall only a single performance evaluation in these 5 years. I believe it was at my routine standard 6 month probation anniversary.

 

This narrative describes an outstanding employee and co-worker who performed consistently and without exception and who also regularly tutored staff on advanced excel techniques.

 

During these 5 years, I never was required to get prior approval for time off. As a courtesy, we would note time off on our Google calendar. This was the standard. This was the procedure. This was in effect and in fact the policy. Many many times, I would leave the office during the day to attend to some errand, car issue or volunteer responsibility as the President of the Cape Elizabeth Lions Club. Never, not once, was I or any other member of the AOC staff required or expected to obtain prior approval.

 

August 22nd, I had a job interview with Robert Half and on Friday, August 24th, was offered a job. On August 24th, I emailed Ellen Hjelm and gave my 2 week notice.

 

Over the next 2 weeks, Ellen learned from other AOC staff that I had been exceedingly bored and was completely unchallenged, some weeks working as few as 20 hour productively. She was surprised by this because she was completely unaware of it. I think she was personally embarrassed that she had no idea. You can confirm this with the other staff at the AOC.

 

During August 28, 29 and 30, Ellen was working in Augusta and per the de facto policy, I noted leaving the office and taking personal/vacation time on 2 of those days on my Google calendar, as I remember.

 

Some time that week, I believe, I completed an on-line exit interview and with all honesty, rated Ellen Hjelm with perfect scores as a supervisor. About 2 weeks prior to giving notice, Ellen invited me and other AOC staff for a day trip on her personal boat.

 

With this backdrop, we come to Thursday, September 6th, my second to last day at 11am.

 

This begins the second relevant time period to the story.

 

I went to Ellen to tell her that I had completed any and all work and there was nothing more for me to do. I asked to take the rest of the day off and also the next day using vacation time.

 

She said, You cannot take any time off in your last 2 weeks without prior approval. If you do, you lose all your accrued vacation pay. In my case, this amounts to almost $2,000.

 

I was stunned, shocked, gob smacked, horrified and felt like she had slapped me in the face with full force. I immediately told her that I had already taken the time off the prior week, and did that mean I had already lost my accrued time off, because here I was asking for approval for these last 2 days? She said, you have to read the contract. We do this all the time to people when they retire. You should have read the contract. She then just shrugged her shoulders with a sly smirk on her face and said nothing else at any time from that moment to this.

 

Understandably, I was angry and upset that I had been betrayed like this. She had figuratively and literally reached into my wallet and stolen almost $2,000 from me and my family, money I had earned honestly and in good faith. I uttered one or more profanities but I did NOT utter them or direct them to her personally.

 

Having now lost the value of my accrued time off, I had nothing to lose and in all honesty, it was best I not remain in the office. I simply left Ellen’s office. I stopped at Gwen’s office and told her what had just transpired, but I am sure she heard every word herself first hand. I warned her to tell her staff that they should never trust Ellen to have their best interests in mind ever again. I left my ID badge on the front desk and left the building. I subsequently gave my access key to Gwen to give to Dennis because I did not trust anyone in AOC management at that point.

 

At that point, I was right in the middle of a mental health crisis. It was imperative that I leave the site and have a chance to recover.

 

At 12:30pm that day, I had calmed down enough to send an email to Dennis Corliss and Ted Glessner asking them to retroactively grant their approval for my time off in consideration of my 5 years of exemplary service. I never received any reply. Understandably, this continued to increased my anxiety and stress level.

 

At about 4:30 that day, to preserve my rights as a union member, I filed a grievance with my union over this incident. Again, more stress and anxiety brought on by the axctions of Ellen Hjelm.

 

In a subsequent email to me, my union representative stated that management told her that they had initially decided to grant my request for approving the time off, but had then rescinded it.

 

The question in my mind becomes, when did they decide to grant the approval and when did they rescind it?

 

Did they grant the approval prior to 11am, September 6th? That can’t be true. If they did, why would Ellen tell me I had lost my accrued time off? If they did, then Ellen lied to me directly. Why would she do that? One explanation might be that she was acting out of vindictiveness spite and hatefulness towards me in retaliation for me retiring and for being embarrassed at discovering she had no idea how bored I was at my job. In addition, she was trying to goad and entrap me deceitfully into the exact reaction she got. I can think of no other reason for her to lie to me.

 

Did management grant their approval in response to my impassioned plea in my 12:30 email? This seems the only rational conclusion. It fits with all the objective evidence that exists.

 

The next question is, when did management rescind their approval of my time off and why?

 

The only rational explanation is that they retaliated against me by rescinding their approval when they discovered that I had filed a grievance with the union. I believe this is illegal retaliation.

 

Given the totality of this narrative, I was made aware of an illegal act, retaliation against me for engaging in protected activity, filing a union grievance. The other illegal act I was aware of was illegal age discrimination. I notified management of these illegal acts. I provided management an opportunity to rectify the situation. Management failed to rectify the situation. I was harmed by the retaliatory actions taken against me by management as a result of reporting illegal acts to them. These are the 5 points required to bring a whistleblower action against an employer in Maine and I make that charge.

 

Also, as Ellen told me directly, they do this all the time to people when they retire. That is pure age discrimination in both fact and effect.

 

Why was the clause related to stealing accrued time off put in the contract? As I understand the facts and circumstances and rationale behind the contract terms that this story revolves around, it is designed to address the situation where an employee simply walks out without good reason or explanation, leaving the working unit at a loss to continue processing work. What negative behavior was it intended to deter and punish? It makes no sense to impose this kind of unique job environment restriction and punishment on a person’s activities simply because they have decided to retire. Can management honestly say that my behavior was unreasonable or contrary to what any rational person would expect in the circumstances? And does management routinely punish retirees simply as punishment for retiring?

 

My taking the remainder of Thursday and Friday off was not vacation.  Those were medical leave days to address and attend to the mental anguish and pain and anxiety and stress my manager dumped on me with no reasonable rationale. Any mental health professional, given this scenario, would have to agree that my need for a mental health break was reasonable, rational and understandable. To punish me for taking a minimal amount of medical leave is unconscionable and illegal. There was no work left for me to do. I had trained and mentored everyone who needed the assistance to take over for me. It was 12 hours. Management is acting in a wretched and unreasonable and heartless and illegal manner in treating me this way.

 

This comes down to the question, how should management treat its employees? I’m reminded of a nursery rhyme that should be taught to all children, especially daughters:

 

Mirror mirror on the wall

It does not matter if I’m short or tall

If I have skinny legs or my hips are wide

It only matters who I am inside

Blue eyes, brown eyes, black or green

What makes me most beautiful cannot be seen

When you look at me, don’t judge me by my parts

The most beautiful thing about me is my heart.

 

I ask the management of the AOC, what is in your heart? I know mine is pure. How will you tell your children about how you behaved in this case?



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