Maine State Police trooper wasn’t represented unfairly because of relationship with gay colleague, board rules
YORK, Maine — The chairwoman of the Maine Labor Relations Board has ruled that Maine State Police Trooper Jarrett MacKinnon hasn’t proven that union leaders treated him unfairly because of his friendship with a gay colleague, but the trooper’s father confirmed he plans to appeal the decision.
Katharine Rand, chairwoman of the board, dismissed MacKinnon’s complaint of unfair representation by the Maine State Troopers Association in a ruling last week. The trooper’s Maine Labor Relations Board filing came after the latest incident in what he described in his complaint as a pattern of harassment by union leaders and superior officers, which he said stemmed from his collegial relationship with a gay trooper.
But although Rand acknowledged MacKinnon’s allegations of a hostile work environment, she said the trooper fell short of proving that the union did not represent him fairly against discipline he received as a result of a 2011 incident.
“MacKinnon clearly alleges that some of his fellow officers and supervisors harbored animus toward him because of his friendship with another officer who they believed to be homosexual,” Rand wrote in her decision, in part. “Col. [Craig] Poulin is among those alleged to harbor this bias or animus, and it is reasonable to infer that Poulin’s feelings about MacKinnon did not change after he retired from the Maine State Police and became executive director of the MSTA.
“The shortcoming in MacKinnon’s charge is not the absence of a motive for Poulin to handle his grievance in an arbitrary or discriminatory fashion, but rather the absence of any allegation from which one could conclude that the MSTA or Poulin actually did so,” she continued.
In a previous interview, Poulin told the BDN he could not comment on the MacKinnon case, but association attorney William McKinley said the group agrees with Rand’s decision.
“[T]he Chairman has dismissed the case, which we believe was appropriate,” McKinley told the BDN in an email.
Paul MacKinnon, Jarrett MacKinnon’s father, confirmed that his son, represented by Augusta attorney Barbara Goodwin, will appeal the dismissal to a larger panel of the Maine Labor Relations Board.
During a previous interview, Paul MacKinnon said his son cannot comment on the complaint either. But the father said the clashes with supervisors and association representatives that led to the complaint have combined with a slew of family health problems to take an emotional toll on the trooper and his relatives.
“It’s been a living hell for him,” Paul MacKinnon said. “In the meantime, my wife was battling cancer and going through treatments — she’s still going through treatments. The kid lived through hell, and all he ever wanted to do was become a state cop.”
In recent years, Paul MacKinnon himself warded off prostate cancer, and his wife — Jarrett’s mother — is now facing a return bout with the rare leiomyosarcoma, a cancer that has already claimed the life of Jarrett’s aunt.
According to the trooper’s complaint, one of Jarrett MacKinnon’s first run-ins with supervisors was triggered by a court date he missed while spending time with his dying aunt in the hospital in 2006. An internal investigation was launched into the missed appearance, and MacKinnon was ultimately fired as a result of the probe.
The investigation, MacKinnon alleges, was one in what became a series of trumped-up black marks on his record — with union officials conspiring with command-staff administrators — aimed at running him out of the department because of his friendship with another Maine State Police officer who is gay.
Jarrett MacKinnon — whose job was restored in 2007 after going to arbitration, he argues, without union support — alleges in his complaint that, “He was stigmatized because of his association with … a homosexual trooper” going back as far as “his field training days.”
“It’s just a few players. They tagged him as being gay, and he got no help,” said Paul MacKinnon, who noted that his son is happily married to a woman. “It became a vendetta. It started with derogatory remarks, and it snowballed.”
The union, in its response to the complaint, denied any “improper motive” and suggested that the investigations and punishments MacKinnon received were deserved. The association shouldn’t be found at fault of violating its fair representation duties if it legitimately agreed with the police command staff on “reasonable” disciplinary measures, union attorney McKinley wrote.
“It is not the union’s job to always disagree with the employer,” the attorney wrote, in part. “Sometimes the employer is right. Even the employer’s confidence in the union is a legitimate interest of the union.”
The most recent incident of dispute described in MacKinnon’s brief took place in July 2011, when the trooper sought permission to pursue into New Hampshire motorcyclists first seen traveling at almost 100 mph on the highway near Old Orchard Beach.
MacKinnon said he received permission from a supervisor to continue pursuit of the speeding motorcyclists past state lines, but later was allegedly disciplined for breaking pursuit policies, without any testimony from the supervisor who approved the action.
In her ruling last week, Rand argued that MacKinnon did not allege that the “supervisor’s instructions were consistent with policy,” and suggested that he could still be held accountable for the action even if following orders.
Further, the chairwoman wrote that the union offered to represent MacKinnon through three levels of the grievance process, and that “Poulin negotiated and obtained an offer from the employer to reduce MacKinnon’s discipline from a written reprimand to a counseling memorandum,” indicating that the troopers association did its part in defending MacKinnon.
But Paul MacKinnon said that, like in a slew of previous disciplinary actions his son has faced, the union leaders and police administrators allowed the reprimand in the first place only because of their longstanding dislike of Jarrett.
Past internal investigations against his son, Paul MacKinnon said, centered on court dates his son missed when he was sick and for an after-hours phone call from a supervisor Jarrett missed while cleaning out a flooded basement at the family’s York home.
Paul MacKinnon said the internal investigations and reprimands conflict with the commendation letters his son has received during his years on the force and said the latter documents are a better indication of the kind of trooper Jarrett is.
In a letter citing a July 2011 incident, the younger MacKinnon is lauded for breaking the window of an upside-down car submerged in water and pulling the driver to safety. Saco rescuers, who arrived at the scene soon thereafter, said at the time the man would have drowned without MacKinnon’s heroics, Paul MacKinnon said.
On another, less dramatic occasion in October 2009, he bought a 9-year-old girl lunch at a highway rest stop after learning she hadn’t eaten in a day.
“There’s not one out of hundreds of these papers that says anything bad about him,” Paul MacKinnon said, extending his sample size to include a folder full of regular job performance review forms. “That’s the type of kid he is.”