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Former DHHS employees file suit alleging workplace bullying

Two former state employees have claimed in a lawsuit they were bullied by a supervisor after reporting that she regularly took paid two-hour lunch breaks. Sandra Miner of Pittsfield and Carla Haase of Concord say they complained about the abuse to officials at the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, but nothing was done.

The harassment – which they describe as being carried out by their supervisor Lisa Derepentigny as well as a “clique” in the office – was so intense that both women suffered severe emotional distress and took early retirement, they claim in a lawsuit filed at Merrimack County Superior Court.

A department spokeswoman and Derepentigny both declined to comment. The lawyer handling the suit at the attorney general’s office did not return a message left yesterday.

The women, until they left their positions in summer 2012, were employed by the Division of Child Support Services, where they worked under Derepentigny. That supervisor, as well as her “clique of favored employees,” regularly took lunch breaks that were three to four times what was allowed, according to the suit.

The women reported the long lunch breaks, which they said constituted the misuse of taxpayers’ money, several times to officials, including the department’s ombudsman, the suit says.

According to the suit, Derepentigny made it clear to her employees that she did not allow dissent and had signs hanging in her office that read “Shock me, say something intelligent” and “You are entitled to my opinion.”

In June 2012, Derepentigny learned that the women had made the report and called a mandatory meeting where the women say she threatened that if they complained again she would punish them for being even a minute late for their shifts.

“Following this meeting, Ms. Derepentigny began to bully both of the plaintiffs, frequently accusing them of insubordination and/or failure to do their job, sending them threatening emails, ostracizing them and piling unreasonable amounts of work on them to set them up for failure, complete with impossibly short deadlines,” the lawsuit says.

The women are being represented by Concord attorneys Jason Major and Chuck Douglas.

Haase, a 30-year employee of the state who had worked for Health and Human Services for 15 years, resigned in June 2012 after she said she began to fear coming to work.

According to the lawsuit, Derepentigny then turned her attention to Miner, who at one point was treated for anxiety and was told by her doctor to take several weeks off work.

“When Miner returned from her first anxiety-related leave, Ms. Derepentigny was on her case within 15 minutes of her return, calling her to a meeting where she appeared so angry and vengeful that
. . . Miner feared she would be struck by Ms. Derepentigny,” the lawsuit says.

The harassment was then initiated by others in the office, who shunned Miner and accused her of being “not-normal” because she suffered from migraine headaches, according to the lawsuit.

Miner, who worked in the department for more than 11 years, took early retirement in September 2012.

The lawsuit accuses the state of wrongful termination, saying officials did nothing to stop the abuse that ultimately forced the women to retire, and violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act, saying the women were discriminated against for reporting what they saw as misuse of taxpayer dollars.

“They reported what they, in good faith, believed was wrongdoing and mismanagement of state funds,” Major said. “The woman was supposed to be working and she was taking these long lunches. They reported that in good faith and were retaliated against for it.”

The lawsuit is seeking financial damages including payment for lost wages, loss of retirement benefits and compensation for emotional distress as well as attorneys’ fees.

The suit was filed in December. Derepentigny is still employed by the state.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @tricia_nadolny.)

Legacy Comments21

It's not just DHHS that permits supervisors to bully employees. What about a warden (Concord Men's Prison) who bullies an inmate for complaining about mildew in the living areas? The inmate was allergic, so instead of having the mildew cleaned up, the warden had the inmate transferred to a unit where heroin addicts ran wild. When the inmate requested a transfer to a safer area, he was transferred to a secure area, and locked down for 22 hrs. per day. Then he was inexplicitly transferred to Berlin, still in a lockdown area. Then he was questioned by a psychiatrist, and admitted to having had some suicidal thoughts, brought about by the bullying treatment he was receiving. That caused a transfer back to the psychiatric secure ward in Concord, where he was dry-tanked and strait jacketed. Meanwhile, the heroin addicts continue to shoot up.

As a state employee. Not all of us choose to have the SEA represent us. Some of us are fair shair payers that are forced to pay that union. It sounds since they both have their own lawyers they are not full members either. You also have to know that under DHHS, supervisor are never wrong. They are god and do what ever they like. If complaints are made on them, they are usuallly pushed aside by upper mgt. A great cost saving measure, is 15% reducation in classisfied and unclassified mgt positions. When layoffs happen mgt is never touched. If you laid off like the private sector middled mgt is gone first no in the State of NH.

The Whistlebower Act should have been used with a complaint by the emploees, with a hearing to follow. Just telling a supervisor is not always wise. And obviously, whoever these two complained to ratted them out to the supervisor that was the issue. it is also is quite tellling the many in the office, also chimed in and contributed to the harrassment. Sound likes a snake pit of an office. With a dicatator who you go along with, or she and her groupies will punish you. Obviously this state office is not being managed well Sadly when you work in a place like that, you either file a complaint or go along with the majority to keep your job. Not very efficient, and I am sure this office has a lot more problems. When you feel that you are invincible, that allows you to abuse authority, and waste the taxpayers money in the process..

The real problem here is that there is no means of providing status blind protection from workplace harassment in state government. There is currently a bill pending in the state legislature that seeks to prevent this type of behavior in state government and save taxpayer money! HB 591(following an unfortunate amendment) has passed the House and soon will be heard before the Senate committee. I hope that all current and former state employees who would like to see real change will appear and testify about their experiences.

It is not just the employees that suffer bullying its the clients as well. I speak from experience. If you complain you suffer.

Yes the client as well as ALL Family member's suffer. And Yes again, DCYF worker's think they're God and they walk on water. Especially Supervisors.

No waste in state govt?? Are 2-3 hour paid lunches the exception or the norm? Who supervises the supervisors? Sounds like there is much fat to cut in State govt, regardless of the usual suspects that say it's cut to the bone now. Yeah...no its not.

GWTW, if these folks (the average supervisor salary is $65,000) are taking 2 hour lunches, figure that one out. They only work 37.5 hours per week and they get a 15 minute break after lunch, so that is 36.2 hours per week less 10 hours on those paid lunches and you have people working 27.5 hours for $65,000. I would love that deal, what about you???? Then think that we provide retirement benefits to them; benefits that we do not match in the private sector. I can tell you that under Democrats, these abuses will never change.

This case is but a microcosm of the life of the rank and file state worker. It does not pay to speak up or bring attention to ones self. Self initiative is frowned upon. As someone who had gone from the private sector to a state job, I can attest to that. I constantly proposed methods to improve the ways things were done and ways to save money. This led to constant friction, especially when I brought to light that we were purchasing an item from a "cute" salesman for 3X the cost of another vendor on the identical item. After a few years I found myself just showing up and really not even caring about what I did, just doing the minimum. One day I woke up and got sick of the routine and noticed that the group that never questioned anything were being promoted. So I returned to my rock the boat ways. After 11 years I was asked, in no uncertain terms, to take a voluntary layoff and early retirement. So next time you are critical of "state workers" it is the system that beats the life out of people not that they are lazy. Gotta luv State Service..

I could have written this same comment. I have been a state worker for many years. I see supervisors and alot of workers taking long walks, long lunches, or just chewing the fat all day long and then complain that they can't get their work done. If you say something about it nothing gets fixed. Some of these workers get good pay. They talk all day. If you complain about it, you look like you are the bad person. Instead of doing something about it they tell you to put in ear plugs. The managers are not good managers, and they keep getting promoted!

After reading your comments and the comments of Mauser, I would think that state workers and the SEIU/SEA members would embrace a top to bottom review of state government identifying efficiencies and building productivity. I would think that state workers and the SEIU/SEA members would embrace a 360 survey to and from their supervisors. I think that what you and Mauser reveal is what everyone already knew or surmised......government is inefficient and wasteful at best.

I agree with Lilac. If anything, this article points out how things are run, or should I say the lack of how things are run. When all supervisors are doing their job, they are on top of things. When it comes to employees, it is up to the supervisors to act on complaints and issue warnings or fire the bad apple that is causing all the issues.

Good for these women, I hope they win their case. I went through the same thing at a different state agency and got so fed up I walked out and quit. I spoke with personnel, as well as others in reference to the supervisor who was causing an extremely hostile work environment and nothing was ever done.

This is not just an employee problem, it's a problem because employees are told they are untouchable or indemnified from prosecution. This is nothing short of a free ticket to do as you please. When states make employees accountable for their actions as they are in the real world, then you would see people doing their job with responsibility. I think anyone who has dealt with directly or indirectly with this agency and their related departments can say first hand that this is not just an employee problem. I will watch this case with great anticipation

The Monitor takes on another tough topic but I have to say that this is the kind of reporting they should be doing. It is tough to go up against their core readership (state employees, progressives, etc) in departments within the state where wrongdoing is going on. Thank you Monitor for your effort here, exposing what is an epidemic of theft of time at the state level. Last year two DES state employees were blogging at all hours of the day and stealing tax dollars through spending their hours on non-business related things. That was not excusable either. Now, this is exactly why we need a top to bottom review of the state, identification of efficiencies that can be improved upon and identification of dead wood scamming the system and not doing their jobs. I do feel for these two women, I have experienced the same thing and had the same kind of supervisor in the past but in the end right makes might and these two women will win.

Welcome to the REAL world of NH DHHS. Now you know how families feel, bullied by DHHS. Specifically, DCYF!

So sue the supervisor, the other employees and the supervisor of the immediate supervisor if those are the "PEOPLE" involved. The "state of NH" can not do anything - it is just a name.

I disagree in this instance. MIner & Haase made formal complaints and those should have been investigated. If the State Dept. of Personnel had done a good job, the supervisor would have been forced to change her bad behaviors.

As I said, then sue the supervisor of the supervisor also. I agree 100% that something should have been done. Suing the "state" just removes the accountability and responsibility (as usual) of the "people" that do not do their job. The "State Dept. of Personnel" is just a name on a door, actual people are the ones making decisions to ignore a problem or react to a problem.

Pesonnel makes the rules that can keep this kind of thing from happening. They should be enforcing their rules.

To ForTheRecord below, just speculating but I imagine that they view the workplace like they did in 1970. The fact that it is the Department of Personnel vs the Human Resource and Relations Department speaks volumes. The fact that people are called "employees" versus "team members" suggests that these folks have NOT been either a) properly schooled in 21st century hiring practices and good human resources or 2) they are so ingrained in those positions that they are totally out of sync with the modern day workforce. Any organization, public or private that does not embrace autonomy amongst its team members and that operates under rules and regulations for the purpose of "compliance" is a dinosaur. That is the issue with government and government employment, people fill the hole like a link in a chain. I believe what you are saying.......I worked for the state once.

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