Former DHHS employees file suit alleging workplace bullying

Last modified: 4/1/2013 3:51:59 PM
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 or on Twitter at @tricia_nadolny.)

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