Maine CDC director who made document-shredding allegations resigns

Sharon Leahy-Lind
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Sharon Leahy-Lind
Posted July 31, 2013, at 6:10 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 01, 2013, at 2:16 a.m.

Sharon Leahy-Lind, the state agency director who said her bosses at the Maine Center for Disease Control ordered her to shred public documents and harassed and discriminated against her when she refused, has resigned.

Leahy-Lind, director of the CDC’s Division of Local Public Health, resigned Wednesday. She filed a complaint of discrimination with the Maine Human Rights Commission in April.

In a statement released through her lawyer Wednesday afternoon, Leahy-Lind said her job has been “impossible to do” since she filed her complaint with the human rights commission. She said she has been treated with disdain and disrespect and has been denied basic work tools, including an office phone.

Leahy-Lind’s attorney, Cynthia Dill, said her client had to do her work using a state-issued BlackBerry cellphone.

“[That] was unsatisfactory for a high-level professional who conducts numerous conference calls daily,” Dill said.

She said she believes the delay in getting a desk phone was connected to the renovation of Lisa Sockabasin’s office. Sockabasin, director of the Office of Minority Health, is one of the CDC officials Leahy-Lind had accused of harassment in her complaint to the MHRC.

“It’s not a coincidence that my client was deprived of an office phone and treated like a pariah,” Dill said.

Leahy-Lind said Wednesday that her resignation was also prompted by the hiring of a new district liaison, an employee who would report directly to her. She said she wasn’t allowed to conduct a second interview with top candidates, that candidates’ expertise and experience was ignored and that the person ultimately chosen by CDC Director Sheila Pinette was not the person most qualified for the position.

Leahy-Lind said she believes one well-qualified candidate was rejected because that person witnessed some of the actions Leahy-Lind had complained about.

“Public health jobs should be filled by the best and the brightest; lives are on the line,” she said. “I can no longer work in an environment where experience and expertise is cast aside, people are discouraged from acting honorably and those who come forward with complaints are targeted for harassment and abuse.”

The Department of Health and Human Services oversees the CDC. A spokeswoman for that department declined to comment, citing personnel issues.

Leahy-Lind made headlines this spring when she alleged, among other things, that her bosses at the Maine CDC ordered her to destroy public documents and then harassed and assaulted her when she refused. Those documents, she said, showed the scoring results for the 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships at the center of last summer’s controversy over state funding. She said the scoring was manipulated to favor certain organizations over others.

Leahy-Lind said she refused to destroy the documents because that would have been illegal. When the CDC’s deputy director, Christine Zukas, learned that she hadn’t destroyed the documents, according to Leahy-Lind’s complaint, she “physically assaulted me and ordered me to take the documents to my home and destroy and dispose of them there.” Leahy-Lind said she again refused and stored the records in files at her office.

After that, Leahy-Lind said, Zukas and Sockabasin retaliated and discriminated against her. At one point, she said, she was told “to ‘shut my f’ing mouth’ by [Sockabasin] and not to mention the favorable treatment given to the Tribal Healthy Maine Partnership, or face adverse employment consequences.”

At another point, she said, Sockabasin screamed at her and called her “a stupid-ass goody-two-shoes.”

Leahy-Lind said she was repeatedly assaulted, both physically and verbally.

Leahy-Lind, Sockabasin and Zukas each have their supporters.

The MHRC has Leahy-Lind’s complaint. Dill said her client plans to add her latest grievances to that complaint. However, she also said Leahy-Lind will likely pull the complaint from the MHRC and request the right to sue in court. A court case will allow her to add claims not within the MHRC’s jurisdiction.

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, known as OPEGA, is looking into how the CDC allocated money to Healthy Maine Partnerships and whether any public documents were ordered to be destroyed. The office expects to report on its findings this fall.

The attorney general’s office is actively reviewing the allegations of document shredding. That office generally conducts a review to determine whether there is basis for an investigation.

Sockabasin was recently named a DHHS tribal liaison, making her responsible for collaborating with Maine’s federally recognized tribes. Because the DHHS spokesperson did not immediately respond to a phone message or additional questions posed by email Wednesday evening, it is unclear whether that role is in addition to her job as director of the Office of Minority Health and, if so, whether it comes with a pay increase.

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