Learning Disabilities Association employees claim they were fired for complaining about potential fraud, embezzlement

Posted Feb. 10, 2013, at 5:02 p.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — Two former employees of Learning Disabilities Association of Maine are suing for violations under the Maine Whistleblower Protection Act and the Maine Human Rights Act after they were allegedly fired from their jobs for complaining about conditions or practices at the company that they believed to be illegal.

The suit by Dena Winslow of Presque Isle and Yolanda Vaughn of Oakland was filed in Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou in January. They have received a right to sue letter from the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The Learning Disabilities Association of Maine has served children and adults with specific learning disabilities, their families, professionals and community members since 1980, according to its website. It is based in Windham.

According to the lawsuit, Winslow was LDAME’s executive director from August 2010 until October 2011. Vaughn was an office support staff member from November 2009 until October 2011.

During her employment, Winslow allegedly repeatedly complained to LDAME about conditions or practices which she reasonably believed to be illegal, including potential embezzlement of public grant monies by former employees, potential workers compensation fraud by one of those former employees and potential misuse of public funding.

The lawsuit alleges she was terminated in retaliation for this, in violation of the Maine Whistleblower Protection Act and the Maine Human Rights Act.

She is also alleging breach of contract, as Winslow had secured a new contract but was fired before it could take effect, and she is also suing for unpaid wages to secure lost vacation pay. The final count alleges violations under the federal stored communications act. According to court documents, Winslow alleges that her LDAME email account and her personal email account were broken into by an agent of LDAME, and information was distributed to other LDAME board members.

The lawsuit also alleges defamation on Winslow’s behalf. The suit claims that an LDAME board member told someone not affiliated with LDAME that Winslow “did something terrible and the board had to fire her immediately.” Other board members made similar comments, according to the suit. The suit alleges that another board member emailed other members of the board saying that Winslow had misrepresented the number of hours she had dedicated to a particular project.

Winslow is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and civil penal damages, back pay, reinstatement pay and attorneys fees.

Vaughn is alleging whistleblower retaliation. During her employment, Vaughn allegedly also complained to LDAME about potential embezzlement of public grant monies by former employees, potential workers compensation fraud and potential misuse of public funding.

Vaughn also reported the potential misuse of public funding to the Maine Attorney General’s Office. The suit alleges that after her first complaint of illegal activity, she was denied a raise for which she was due.

The lawsuit alleges she was terminated in retaliation for this, in violation of the Maine Whistleblower Protection Act and the Maine Human Rights Act.

Vaughn is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and civil penal damages, back pay, reinstatement pay and attorneys fees.

Winslow and Vaughn are being represented by Julie D. Farr of Gilbert and Greif of Bangor. Farr did not return a call seeking comment on the case. Learning Disabilities Association of Maine did not respond to requests for comment on this case.

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