April 4, 2013

Maine official: I was harassed for not shredding public documents

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — ‪A division director at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has filed a discrimination claim with the Maine Human Rights Commission, alleging that senior managers assaulted and harassed her after she refused an order to shred public records.

Sharon Leahy-Lind of Portland, director of the CDC's Division of Local Public Health, alleges in the complaint that her supervisor, CDC Deputy Director Christine Zukas, told her last spring to shred documents related to the competitive awards of funding to health outreach nonprofits under the Healthy Maine Partnership. She did not comply, believing it would be illegal.

The Sun Journal newspaper in Lewiston subsequently requested copies of the documents, which is when Zukas discovered that they hadn't been shredded, according to the complaint.

"When she found out I hadn't shredded the documents she physically assaulted me and ordered me to take the documents to my home and destroy and dispose of them there," Leahy-Lind wrote in her complaint, filed Tuesday. She says she again refused, instead keeping the records in her office.

According to the complaint, the records showed the scoring results for funding awards under the program. The Sun Journal said the scoring resulted in a dramatic decrease in funding for Healthy Androscoggin, a nonprofit in Lewiston, and a sharp increase for a smaller organization, Rumford-based Healthy River Valley.

State Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, told the Sun Journal last year that she thought the funding decisions were politically motivated, as Lewiston-Auburn's legislative delegation had been highly critical of Gov. Paul LePage.

Leahy-Lind says in her complaint that the records she was told to shred showed that "what was described as an 'objective' test was in fact manipulated so certain (nonprofits) would be favored over others."

The complaint says the director of the CDC's Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, Lisa Sockabasin, told Leahy-Lind to "shut my (expletive) mouth" and "not to mention the favorable treatment given to the Tribal Healthy Maine Partnerships, or face adverse employment consequences."

"I was physically and verbally assaulted repeatedly," Leahy-Lind says. "The (deputy director) often raised her voice and screamed while grabbing my arm or kicking me under the table. Her behavior was extremely aggressive and hostile."

CDC spokesman John Martins said Wednesday that Zukas would not comment, and Sockabasin was traveling and could not be reached. Martins said the agency doesn't comment on personnel situations.

He said that the scoring process for Healthy Maine Partnership awards had several rounds with varying criteria, and that a nonprofit could move up or down the list from round to round. "The Healthy Androscoggin Partnership was never scored at the top, I can say," he said.

He would not say whether political factors played a role.

The Human Rights Commission isn't allowed to confirm whether a complaint has been filed until it is dismissed or listed on the commissioner's agenda, said commission counsel John P. Gause.

When a complaint is received, the accused typically responds within 30 days and the complainant then submits a written reply. If the commission takes no action within 180 days, complainants are free to pursue full legal remedy in court, he said.

In her complaint, Leahy-Lind did not identify Sockabasin or Zukas by name, only by their titles, but her attorney, Cynthia Dill, confirmed to the Portland Press Herald that they are the individuals in question. She said Leahy-Lind would not speak to a reporter.

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