Maine to pay $65K to worker demoted after testifying about BPA

Posted May 01, 2012, at 6:01 p.m.
Last modified May 01, 2012, at 7:26 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The state has agreed to pay $65,000 to a state employee who claimed she was demoted last year after testifying before a legislative committee during her vacation about the dangers of the chemical bisphenol-A.

In the settlement signed April 19 between the state and Andrea Lani, the state admits no wrongdoing. The agreement, however, requires that the state provide training to supervisors within the Maine Department of Environmental Protection about the state law that prohibits retaliation against state employees who provide testimony to the Legislature.

Lani, a Whitefield resident, filed a lawsuit in October in U.S. District Court in Bangor alleging she was the victim of retaliation by DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho and Ronald Dyer, director of the DEP’s bureau of remediation and waste management. The lawsuit was dismissed by Lani after the settlement.

Lani had worked for the DEP since 1999 and oversaw the program that educated the public about toxic substances in plastic and their impact on children, called the Safer Chemicals in Children’s Products program.

According to her lawsuit, Lani testified on March 29, 2011, before the Legislature’s Environmental and Natural Resources Committee in opposition to a bill, LD 1129, that would rewrite the 2008 Kid-Safe Product Act. Lani, who said she used a vacation day to testify, told the committee that the bill was “bad public policy and would repeal an important law that protected children’s health and welfare” in Maine.

Lani claimed that two days after her testimony, Aho and Dyer ordered an investigation into whether she used department resources to develop her testimony. The lawsuit notes she was cleared of that allegation four days later.

But in June, Lani claimed she was reassigned to a less desirable clerical job to work on the agency’s record management system, updating record retention schedules and implementing a new approach to Freedom of Access laws.

She claimed that her position at the safer chemicals program was filled by a person far less qualified who had been hired in January 2011 at an entry-level clerical position.

The lawsuit by Lani points out that Aho previously had been a lobbyist for the chemical industry and had opposed the 2008 Kid-Safe Product Act.

Of the $65,000 paid by the state, $27,300 will go to Johnson and Webbert LLP, which is the law firm that represented Lani, and the remaining $37,700 will be paid to her. The settlement states that the money is for noneconomic damages.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection agreed under the settlement to provide training to its supervisory staff regarding the state laws that prohibit retaliation for testimony.

A 1985 state law states: “A supervisor shall not discharge, threaten or otherwise discriminate against a state employee regarding the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, location or privileges of employment because the employee, in compliance with this chapter, testified before or provides information to a legislative committee.”

Another 1985 law states that state employees have the right to represent themselves and testify before a legislative committee on their own time.

The training will be done by the Maine attorney general’s office either in person or by videoconference and completed by Jan. 9, 2013. Training for the DEP commissioner’s office and bureau directors, however, must be done in person and completed by July 9.

The two sides in the lawsuit also agree not to disparage the other. They also are prohibited from discussing the settlement, according to the terms of the agreement.

Telephone messages were left with Lani and her attorneys on Tuesday.

Lani also had sought to return to her former job. The settlement does not reference her current job assignment. She is listed on the DEP website as working in the commissioner’s office and her job title is listed as “environmental specialist 3.”

A telephone message also was left for DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho on Tuesday afternoon.

The settlement was reached before the state filed its response to Lani’s lawsuit.

CORRECTION:

A previous version of this story said Andrea Lani filed a lawsuit in October in Bangor District Court. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor. It was an editing error.

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